East Asia Japan

Kanazaki Sends High-Flying Frontale Crashing Down to Earth

Kawasaki Frontale’s 11-match unbeaten streak has come to a screeching halt after the current J.League 1 leaders were beaten 1-0 by Nagoya Grampus at the Toyota Stadium on Sunday. Former Kashima Antlers winger Mu Kanazaki scored the winner for Grampus with a 44th minute header, which condemned Kawasaki to their first league defeat of the season.

Kanazaki’s winner was the 31-year old’s first goal for Nagoya in his second stint with the Dolphins, having been part of the Aichi Prefecture-based club’s title-winning squad in 2010. Kanazaki’s career after the 2010 triumph saw him travel to Germany to play for 1.FC Nürnberg, before a stint in Portugal with Portimonense ensued. Kanazaki then went toe-to-toe with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric with Kashima in the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup final, where the Antlers were beaten 4-2 by Spanish giants Real Madrid, before a move to Sagan Tosu saw a dip in Kanazaki’s performances. Tosu’s financial troubles meant that Kanazaki was loaned out to Nagoya for the remainder of the 2020 season and after a COVID-19 diagnosis, the winger is slowly recovering his mojo.

The arrival of Italian head coach Massimo Ficcadenti has saved Nagoya from relegation woes last season and in his full season in charge of the Dolphins, Ficcadenti was able to implement his personal philosophies on the squad. This in turn created one of the meanest defenses in the J1, with only 8 goals conceded so far coming into Sunday’s match. And that defensive stubbornness is what guided Nagoya to victory on Sunday, with Kawasaki’s deadly attack – with 34 goals to their name this season so far – being left frustrated by their inability to penetrate their opponents.

As usual Kawasaki’s blistering attack took center stage early into the match, with Akihiro Ienaga being unleashed into the Nagoya defense in the 5th minute. The veteran midfielder sends the ball to Hidemasa Morita, only for the latter’s shot to be cleared off the line by Shinnosuke Nakatani in the last minute.

Miki Yamane then had a crack for Kawasaki in the 17th minute, only for Nagoya’s Australian goalkeeper Mitchell Langerak to deny the Kawasaki defender’s powerful shot.

Not willing to just sit back and soak up the Kawasaki attack, Nagoya took their own initiative and made a chance of their own in the 27th minute. Kanazaki crossed the ball into the Kawasaki defense from the right, however it was cleared away by the Kawasaki defenders. The ball however fell to Kanazaki’s teammate Gabriel Xavier who fired off a shot, which was blocked by Kawasaki’s Brazilian defender Jesiel.

The chance however gave Nagoya the opportunity to slowly grow into the game and with half-time looming, the hosts struck gold. Sho Inagaki lobbed the ball towards Matheus, who was prowling on the left side of the pitch. The former Yokohama F. Marinos man took a moment with the ball, before crossing it towards the Kawasaki penalty box. Kanazaki was waiting in the box and lashed in a venomous header that went beyond the reaches of Kawasaki goalie Jung Sung-ryong.

At half time with Nagoya 1-0 up, Ficcadenti gathered his men and told them that the second half will become their hardest 45 minutes of football yet, knowing all too well how ruthless Kawasaki are in shredding opponents to pieces even after going behind initially. And Kawasaki head coach Toru Oniki did threw in some fresh legs for the second half – Ryota Oshima and Reo Hatate were introduced on half-time, while Yu Kobayashi was thrown into the mix after 61 minutes. However, inspired by Ficcadenti’s words, the Nagoya players executed a brave defensive display that denied Kawasaki their equalizer.

Kobayashi and Jesiel tested Langerak however the Australian was quick with his reflexes and prevented the two from scoring, while the 73rd minute withdrawal of Kaoru Mitoma, who was on scintillating form coming into Sunday’s clash, dampened Kawasaki’s deadliness from the left wing. In the end, Kawasaki were left frustrated by Nagoya’s stubborn defense, being unable to find any breakthrough in the second 45. The league leaders were forced to leave the Toyota Stadium empty-handed, while a well-fought victory meant that Nagoya are now 3rd on the J1 table, just 8 points off the summit.

Elsewhere in the J1, FC Tokyo managed to blast three goals without reply past bottom side Shonan Bellmare to move up to fourth on the J1 table, while second-placed Cerezo Osaka were also victorious on Sunday after a Tatsuhiro Sakamoto winner at the Nagai Stadium ensured a 2-1 home win over Vegalta Sendai.

Vissel Kobe survived a tricky tie at the Saitama Stadium 2002 after edging out hosts Urawa Red Diamonds 2-1, while defending J1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos trounced Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-1 at the Nissan Stadium. Oita Trinita and Kashiwa Reysol played out a goalless draw at Oita’s Showa Denko Dome, while Atsuto Uchida signed off a 16-year long career as his Kashima side drew 1-1 with Gamba Osaka at the Kashima Soccer Stadium in Uchida’s last match before retiring from the sport.