Kawasaki Frontale is always the bridesmaid, but Renato & Elsinho are hoping for a big day in 2015…
KAWASAKI — Kawasaki Frontale, having come second in J1 on three occasions and with a trio of runners-up finishes in the Nabisco Cup also to its name, is the perennial bridesmaid of the J.League.
While there is still a long way to go this season, the Kanagawa side is the form team in the top flight right now, and a 2-0 triumph over rival FC Tokyo at the start of the second stage on Saturday night made it four consecutive league wins for Yahiro Kazama’s men.
Renato, whose peach of a free-kick made sure of victory in the Tamagawa Classico, is hoping the team can finally shake off its unwanted moniker this year.
“It’s a shame we have that history,” he said after the match. “The team has been in a very good position many times and come very close, but just lacked that final something to win a title.
“If the team is able to win something in one way or another it will create new history, make the club bigger, and help it to grow. All we can do is fight until the very end, and try to claim that title this season.”
In the off-period between the first and second stages, Frontale were humbled 6-0 by German powerhouse Borussia Dortmund, but Renato believes that thrashing became constructive for him and his teammates at the resumption of league play.
“Everyone knows we played a friendly against a big club and, of course, the result was very disappointing,” the Brazilian said.
“Within that game, however, we learned many positive things. We have to make quicker decisions and there are lots of things we still have to do. That game helped us realize that. It was perfect preparation and gave us strength for today, I think.”
Having players capable of game-changing interventions is key for any side aiming for glory, and, like Renato, his compatriot Elsinho is steadily establishing himself as someone able to do just that.
The 25-year-old cited a target of eight league goals ahead of his debut season, and his delightful opener on Saturday took him to five so far, with one in each of the last four games.
“It is not especially important to aim for personal goals,” he said post-game. “It’s just a target for myself, and if that can combine with victories for the team then that’s good.”
For Elsinho, that doesn’t just mean winning the second stage, but emerging as the champion after the postseason playoff — which will involve three to five clubs.
“When you say ‘title’ the real meaning is to be the overall champion for the season,” he said. “Any way we can, we have to battle right to the end. I think we are capable of going all the way and winning the final game.”
In order for Kawasaki to have its big day, somebody will have to stop Urawa Reds. The Saitama side cruised to the first stage championship without tasting defeat, then picked up right where they left off at the start of the second stage, beating Matsumoto Yamaga 2-1.
Yuki Muto — who was a revelation in the first stage and picked up the June MVP award — opened the scoring early on, before Shinzo Koroki added another in the second half. Ryusuke Sakai pulled one back for Matsumoto, but Reds hung on and extended their record unbeaten run to 18 matches.
The other two sides to finish above Frontale in the first stage — along with Reds and the vanquished FC Tokyo — also made it clear they are still up for the fight, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Gamba Osaka both victorious, against Vegalta Sendai and Ventforet Kofu, respectively.
Hisato Sato grabbed a brace in Sanfrecce’s 4-3 win — moving him to within just three goals of Masashi Nakayama’s J1 scoring record of 157 – while the dynamic duo of Patric and Takashi Usami registered in Gamba’s 2-1 come-from-behind triumph, the latter stroking home the winner from the penalty spot in the last minute.