Kawasaki – Both Kawasaki Frontale and FC Tokyo had plenty of tricks on Saturday night, but it was league-leading Frontale who left Todoroki Stadium with a treat.
Akihiro Ienaga scored a penalty and Kengo Nakamura celebrated his 40th birthday with the game-winning goal in a 2-1 win that pushed two-time champion Kawasaki three points closer to another star above their badge and Tokyo officially out of title contention under a Halloween full moon.
“We did well to keep them at one goal in the first half,” said Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa. “In the second half we played well, and Frontale did a little better.”
Birthday boy Nakamura nearly put Frontale ahead in the 13th minute with a pair of chances, the first a shot from distance that rocked the crossbar and the second an angled shot straight to Tokyo keeper Go Hatano.
The game’s opening goal came not through open play but instead from the penalty spot after Frontale’s Brazilian talisman Leandro Damiao was pulled down in the box by Tokyo defender Tsuyoshi Watanabe. The ball went to former league MVP Akihiro Ienaga, who duly converted in the 24th minute to give Kawasaki the lead with a low shot to the right.
Hatano may not have stopped Ienaga’s penalty but he did prevent Frontale from finding a second in the remainder of the first half despite a flurry of chances as the ball mostly stayed in Tokyo’s defensive third. According to local broadcaster DAZN, Frontale logged 73% of possession and 17 shots (11 on goal) to Tokyo’s 27% and five, respectively.
“We had chances to score a second or third goal and struggled. In the end we just tried to win,” Frontale manager Toru Oniki said.
But despite more close chances by the hosts in the second half the next goal instead went to Tokyo, with Diego Oliveira angling home from inside the six-yard box after receiving the ball from Shuto Abe and maneuvering behind the Frontale back line.
“I didn’t really have an angle and I’m glad I was able to score,” Oliveira said. “I thought about crossing it but I thought I saw a shot, so I’m happy it went in.”
Kawasaki continued to press the attack in the search for a second go-ahead but seemed to lose their composure at times with several fouls and more highlight-worthy saves from Hatano in just his sixth start of the season.
Yet in a season with plenty of storybook finishes for the two-time J. League champion it’s all too appropriate that Nakamura, playing in peak condition at 40 despite spending the first half of 2020 recovering from ACL surgery, slammed home from close range after a pass from rookie standout Kaoru Mitoma.
“I’d said a birthday goal would be impossible but I’ll admit I was trying for it,” said Nakamura. “Everyone’s told me that now I’m middle aged. For soccer players that’s usually 30. Thirty is a big year for soccer players, I didn’t think I’d play at 40 and score.
”Age is just a number, it’s about what I can accomplish with my abilities.”
Despite Tokyo’s failure to improve on their runner-up finish to Yokohama F. Marinos last season, the capital club will still have two more chances to lift silverware this season beginning with next Saturday’s Levain Cup final against Kashiwa Reysol.
“It’s been a difficult season and we have to look ahead to next year,” said Hasegawa. “But we still have the Levain Cup and Asian Champions League.
“The players showed their spirit, and I think we were able to show our determination to our fans who came to the stadium today.”
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