October 31st 2020 was a date to remember for Kawasaki Frontale’s very own living legend Kengo Nakamura. The 40-year old evergreen midfielder capped off four decades of being alive by scoring the match-winning goal in Kawasaki’s J.League 1 Matchweek 25 outing on Saturday, with his team edging out Tamagawa Clasico rivals FC Tokyo 2-1 at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium. The derby win meant that Kawasaki have won their last 12 J1 games, cementing their position at the league’s summit.
Making the short trip across the Tama River to the Todoroki, FC Tokyo were determined to set things straight having lost their previous 3 J1 games to Yokohama duo FC and F. Marinos as well as Kashiwa Reysol. However, taking on the J1 frontrunners at their own backyard is always going to be a tough order even for a team of FC Tokyo’s quality, and the Gasmen soon found themselves struggling to contain Frontale as Nakamura tested the FC Tokyo defense twice in the 13th minute – with a shot that went off the crossbar and another one that went straight towards FC Tokyo goalie Go Hatano.
FC Tokyo captain Tsuyoshi Watanabe then made the fateful error of fouling Kawasaki’s Leandro Damiao inside the penalty box in the 24th minute, providing the home side with a golden chance to open the scoring from the spot. Akihiro Ienaga was entrusted with taking the penalty and the veteran midfielder made no mistakes at all, smashing in a shot that sent Hatano the wrong way.
With the advantage now theirs, Kawasaki proceeded to pepper FC Tokyo’s defense with a barrage of shots, however Hatano performed admirably between the sticks to prevent the home side from doubling their advantage throughout the rest of the first half. With 73% of the ball and 11 shots throughout the first 45, Kawasaki thoroughly dominated their derby rivals as they retained their slender lead into half-time.
Despite being at the back-foot, FC Tokyo refused to buckle and in the 57th minute the Gasmen managed to drew level. Shuto Abe passed the ball short into a congested Kawasaki penalty box, where it was well-received by Brazilian teammate Diego Oliveira. Diego worked his Samba magic by beating two Kawasaki defenders before rifling in a shot from a very tight angle that somehow went past Kawasaki custodian Jung Sung-ryong.
Realizing that their advantage had been thrown out of the window, Kawasaki began to increase the intensity of their attacks, trying their best to penetrate an excellent Hatano who did a decent job against the league leaders despite only starting his sixth match this season.
However, despite all the excellent work that Hatano had displayed throughout the match, Kawasaki’s winning mentality proved to be too strong for the 22-year old goalkeeper.
In the 74th minute of the derby, Kaoru Mitoma weaved his way into the FC Tokyo defense from the left wing before flicking the ball towards Nakamura. The birthday boy wasted no chance and pulled the trigger almost immediately, smashing the ball past Hatano with his first touch to reclaim the lead for Kawasaki.
No further goals were scored after Nakamura’s point-blank range effort and Kawasaki emerged out from the latest edition of the Tamagawa Clasico as worthy 2-1 winners.
Adding a bittersweet factor to the derby win, just a day after Kawasaki had inched themselves closer to their third J1 title, Nakamura announced his intention to retire from football at the end of the season. His winning goal against FC Tokyo on Saturday was seen as a passing of the torch, with his successor Mitoma providing him with the assist. Having started his professional career in 2003 at Kawasaki, Nakamura has made more than 600 appearances for the club and scored more than 80 goals, an excellent example of a one-club man. With Kawasaki set to cruise towards their third league triumph, it seems that Nakamura has chosen the perfect time to hang up his boots – with a third league winners’ medal to his name.
In the light of Nakamura announcing his retirement, Kawasaki posted touching tributes on their social media accounts on Sunday to thank their living legend, a man who has made Kawasaki his identity and passion.
Matchweek 25’s other matches saw three 0-0 draws being played out, with Oita Trinita and Urawa Red Diamonds sharing the spoils at the Showa Denko Dome, Vegalta Sendai playing out a stalemate with Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Yurtec Stadium, and Kashiwa Reysol being frustrated by Shimizu S-Pulse at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium, a result that prompted Shimizu to sack their head coach Peter Cklamovski on Sunday. Shonan Bellmare are now unbeaten in 4 matches after edging out Yokohama FC 1-0 at the Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka, while Gamba Osaka managed to eke out a 2-1 win over Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo at the Panasonic Stadium Suita. Last but not least, Nagoya Grampus managed to leave the Kashima Soccer Stadium with all three points after beating 10-men Kashima Antlers 2-0.