East Asia Japan

Ienaga Drives Frontale to the Summit as Spectators Are Allowed Back in Stadiums

Krishna Sadhana

Football Tribe SEA Editor


Saturday’s set of J.League 1 matches were the first J1 matches to allow the presence of spectators within stadiums after the league’s resumption following the COVID-19 pandemic. Clubs are allowed up to 5,000 people into their stadiums and the spectators were not allowed to bring banners and flags as well as being required to wear face masks at all time. Singing and chanting are also being refrained within stadiums, however clapping were allowed.

While not exactly a bumper crowd, around 4,724 people attended the first J1 match with limited spectators, which saw Kawasaki Frontale host newly promoted Kashiwa Reysol at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium. Hosts Kawasaki once again showed their ruthlessness towards opponents, with veteran midfielder Akihiro Ienaga inspiring Kawasaki to a 3-1 win that saw the Kanagawa Prefecture-based side go top of the J1 table.

Following an impressive display in the Tamagawa Clasico that saw Kawasaki destroy FC Tokyo 4-0 at the Ajinomoto, Toru Oniki’s men once again impressed in attack in Saturday’s encounter against 2019 J.League 2 champions Kashiwa. However the hosts have to wait for 39 minutes until they get their opener, with Ienaga heading in Kawasaki’s first of the night that capped off a well-taken corner kick.

Three minutes later Kawasaki made it 2-0 and it was Ienaga again who made his way into the scoreboard. The former Omiya Ardija man fired off a low shot that defeated Kashiwa goalie Kim Seung-gyu, much to the joy of the Kawasaki fans within the stadium.

And in the 52nd minute, Kawasaki’s victory was pretty much confirmed after Leandro Damiao smashed in a header after receiving an excellent cross from Yasuto Wakizaka to make it 3-0 for the hosts.

Kashiwa was second-best throughout the match, so much so that head coach Nelsinho Baptista was forced to sub danger man Michael Olunga off during half-time. The men from Chiba Prefecture did grab a consolation goal in the 56th minute thanks to substitute Hiroto Goya, but it was too little, too late. Kashiwa barely threatened the Kawasaki defense and the hosts held on for a 3-1 victory, Kawasaki’s third win in a row after the J1 restart. The win propelled Oniki’s men to the top of the table, where they will remain until the rest of Matchweek 4 matches were played out.

Elsewhere, at the Showa Denko Dome in Oita, visitors Vissel Kobe made a dream start after Kyogo Furuhashi opened the scoring for them in just 20 seconds. Hosts Oita Trinita refused to buckle after that early setback and after carving out a number of chances in the first half, rising star Tomoki Iwata took advantage of a Kei Chinen through pass and defeated Vissel goalie Hiroki Iikura in a one-on-one battle to score the equalizer.

Vissel, who were resting a number of key players including captain Andres Iniesta and Brazilian striker Douglas, were the better team for the second half but they were unable to find a winner. The 1-1 draw meant that Tomohiro Katanosaka’s Oita are 4th on the table, while Vissel are 9th.

Matchweek 4 continues on Sunday with newly promoted Yokohama FC hosting Vegalta Sendai at the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Stadium, Gamba Osaka visiting the IAI Stadium Nihondaira for a date with Shimizu S-Pulse, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima pay Sagan Tosu a visit. Meanwhile, Urawa Red Diamonds lock horns with winless Kashima Antlers at the Saitama Stadium 2002, Shonan Bellmare host Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo at the Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka, and Cerezo Osaka welcome Nagoya Grampus. Last but not least, a mouthwatering clash is on the cards as defending champions Yokohama F. Marinos take on last year’s runners-up FC Tokyo at the Nissan Stadium.