Matchweek 31 of the 2020 J.League 1 season was played out over the weekend, with newly crowned champions Kawasaki Frontale traveling to second-from-bottom Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday. Playing in their first match after their official coronation as 2020 champions, Kawasaki were given a rude awakening back into reality as they found themselves losing to their less-fancied opponents with only a minute to go until full-time, before Miki Yamane’s 89th minute effort salvaged a solitary point from the IAI Stadium Nihondaira.
With the 2020 J1 title already in the bag, Toru Oniki’s Kawasaki were looking to add a record into their history book – as the team who won the most amount of points in a J1 season. With their tally of 75, should Kawasaki had a perfect run in their remaining four matches, they could reach a total of 87 points at the end of the season, asserting their total dominance over the league throughout the 2020 season.
First up in Kawasaki’s list of post-championship opponents are 17th placed Shimizu S-Pulse, who were looking to get out of the bottom three with a positive result. Relegation has been abolished from this year’s J1 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but naturally Shimizu would want to avoid the distinction of finishing in this season’s bottom three places. Things have somewhat steadied after the disastrous reign of Peter Cklamovski underneath the tutelage of replacement head coach Hiroaki Hiraoka, with Shimizu managing wins against star-studded Vissel Kobe and top two-chasing Cerezo Osaka, however a 5-1 annihilation at the hands of Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo would suggest that Hiraoka has a job in his hands to rebuild the team in his image. Despite that humiliation at Hokkaido, Shimizu have somewhat recovered by winning and drawing their next two games prior to Kawasaki’s visit.
After welcoming the Kawasaki players with a guard of honor celebrating the Kanagawa Prefecture side’s third J1 title, Shimizu were immediately placed at the wrong end of a Kawasaki attack. Kaoru Mitoma sent a diagonal pass deep within Shimizu’s penalty box to teammate Leandro Damiao in the 7th minute, however Shimizu goalkeeper Takuo Okubo stuck his shin out to deny the Brazilian.
In response to Kawasaki’s early chance, Shimizu then mounted an attack of their own in the 11th minute, however unlike Kawasaki the men in orange actually made their chance count and stun the newly crowned champions with the opening goal. Shimizu’s Brazilian striker Carlinhos made a run down from the midfield, spraying a long ball towards Kenta Nishizawa. Dribbling the ball for a few moment, Nishizawa sent out a cross from the right wing into the Kawasaki penalty box, where the ball was welcomed by a delicious back-heel from Ryo Takeuchi. The Shimizu captain flicked the ball towards an onrushing Carlinhos, who grabbed the opportunity with both hands and smashes the ball home past Kawasaki goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong.
The goal jolted Kawasaki into action and ten minutes after the opener the men in sky blue drew level through Ao Tanaka. Once again a back-heeled assist was involved in the buildup of the goal – with Tanaka sending a short pass towards Damiao, who returned the ball to Tanaka with his back-heel. Tanaka then pulled the trigger and unleashed a powerful shot with his first touch that left Okubo well-beaten, allowing the scoreline to go back on level terms.
An intense back-and-forth followed suit, with Kawasaki almost conceding an own goal in the 23rd minute before following it up with a superb chance in the 29th minute where Okubo made his reflexes count in denying Tanaka his second goal.
However, it was Shimizu who drew blood once again in the 40th minute, with the home side’s Brazilian trio Elsinho, Carlinhos, and Renato Augusto combining together to give their team the lead. A free-kick from outside the box by Nishizawa was well-received by Elsinho, who passed it short into a huge crowd of Kawasaki and Shimizu players. Within the skirmish, Carlinhos received the ball and then passed it quickly towards Renato, who muscled his way out of the sea of orange-and-sky-blue and launched a quick shot into Jung’s goal. The ball was cleared away by a Kawasaki defender but unfortunately the ball had already crossed the line prior to being cleared and the goal was given to Shimizu, giving Hiraoka’s men the advantage coming into half-time.
The second half provided another exchange of attacks between the two sides, however neither of them were able to plant another goal into their opposition’s net with Shimizu’s Nishizawa and Kawasaki’s Yu Kobayashi striking the crossbar. With both Shimizu and Kawasaki squandering chances in the second 45, it was the latter who managed to clinch their equalizer within the dying minutes of the match. An excellent teamwork between club legend Kengo Nakamura, Kaoru Mitoma, and Manabu Saito was capped off by Mitoma finding Yamane within space deep inside the Shimizu penalty box, allowing the former to tap the ball towards the latter. Yamane seized his chance and slotted the ball home past Okubo much to the joy of his teammates and the disappointment of the Shimizu camp.
The 2-2 draw meant that both teams remained where they were prior to Matchweek 31 – Kawasaki still on top with 76 points, while Shimizu are down in 17th with 25 points to their name, four points adrift from Yokohama FC in 15th.
Saturday’s Matchweek 31 action saw two contenders for this season’s silver medal – Nagoya Grampus and Cerezo Osaka – clinching victories to keep their 2nd place aspirations alive, with Nagoya beating Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium and Cerezo emerging 3-1 victors over Consadole at the Sapporo Dome. Yokohama FC capped off Saturday’s action with a 1-1 home draw with Sagan Tosu.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the last two remaining matches of Matchweek 31 were played out, with Oita Trinita succumbing to a shock 2-0 home defeat at the hands of bottom-of-the-league Vegalta Sendai, and Gamba Osaka retaining their stranglehold of 2nd with a 2-1 win away at Shonan Bellmare.