KAWASAKI – Two of the league’s strongest attacking clubs, a packed Todoroki Stadium and one of Japan’s most popular all-girl rock acts bringing down the house.
Business as usual for “Friday Night J. League,” which continues to boost the league’s image with extra doses of spectacle beyond that on the pitch.
Yet despite the firepower wielded by both Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus, it took until the 45th minute for either to find their way onto the scoreboard, and Mateus’ guaranteed goal of the round was negated by Leandro Damiao’s somewhat-lucky equalizer in a 1-1 draw.
Nagoya entered the night trailing league-leading FC Tokyo by four points, while Frontale had one eye on their crucial Asian Champions League away clash at Australia’s Sydney FC next Tuesday.
Without injured striker Yu Kobayashi, Kei Chinen served as Kawasaki’s lone striker to start the match The 24-year-old had impressed this season with four goals in 10 appearances, but on this night he failed to make an impact as Frontale committed frequent turnovers.
“We didn’t play poorly but (Grampus) scored on a good chance,” Frontale manager Toru Oniki reflected. “We improved our focus, but we need to win when we play at home.”
Nor were Grampus error-free, with several inquests into the Kawasaki penalty area lacking bite as Gabriel Xavier’s dead balls failed to create danger for Frontale goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.
“Both teams played interesting soccer,” said Grampus boss Yahiro Kazama. “We can’t be satisfied with our performance; we created chances but didn’t take advantage of them.”
That changed just before halftime, and perhaps as befitting a game in which both teams struggled to find rhythm the opening goal came out of nowhere. With his back to the goal, Grampus striker Jo settled a long ball with his head toward Mateus, who trapped the ball with his chest and volleyed it over the ‘keeper and in.
The halftime performance by local rockers Shishamo of “Ashita mo,” a song inspired by the members’ experience watching Frontale games as high school students and used in recent years as a supporter anthem, perhaps inspired the home players to come out in full spirits for the second half.
Just four minutes after Jung denied Xavier a potential 2-0 goal with a point-blank save, Frontale leveled the score in the 69th minute as substitute Leandro Damiao drilled a shot off Grampus ‘keeper Mitch Langerak and inside the post to make it 1-1.
“The team was doing really well, we had a chance to win the game,” Langerak said. “It’s disappointing to get one point. We probably should have come away with three . . . but that’s the life of a goalkeeper. You can do everything good and then you can have a goal that goes in that you’re not happy about.”
A wild back-and-forth battle ensued for the remaining 21 minutes of action, with both teams pressing hard for the winner but eventually settling for a point each.
“I think we dominated,” said Langerak. “We limited the amount of chances that they had against us. I think in the end they had two or three chances and we probably had more.”
Elsewhere on Friday night, Shonan Bellmare came back from a 2-0 deficit to triumph 3-2 over Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium.
The match was marred by controversy in the first half when Shonan’s Daiki Sugioka found the back of the net in the 31st minute, only for referee Yudai Yamamoto to wave the action on after Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa threw the ball back into play.
Video of the incident quickly went viral online, with league vice chairman Hiromi Hara acknowledging the missed call to reporters at Todoroki Stadium and promising a response by the league.
At Edion Stadium, an Emil Salomonsson own goal in the 86th minute gave struggling Sagan Tosu a stunning 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima.