Saturday, September 29, 2007

ACL loss to Sepahan confirms Frontale's season a bust

ACL loss to Sepahan confirms Frontale's season a bust.
Kawasaki Frontale's exit from the Asian Champions League earlier this week proved what many had feared about Takashi Sekizuka's men over the last couple of weeks: they're a spent force whose season has gone the way of a Britney Spears comeback.

Only time will tell how their free fall into irrelevancy in 2007 will affect Frontale in the foreseeable future, but there's no denying that the team has suffered a major setback.

Frontale has improved in the league standings every year since finishing 7th in J2 in 2001, returning to J1 in 2005 before shocking all but the most optimistic supporters with their runner-up performance last season.

What a difference a year makes.

Currently in ninth place, Kawasaki sit 22 points and a prayer behind pacesetters Urawa Reds.

With nothing left to play for in the league, Sekizuka trained all his focus on progressing in the ACL. He rested the bulk of his first-choice players, including Brazilians Juninho and Magnum, for Frontale’s Round 26 match with Kashiwa Reysol three days before Wednesday’s ACL clash with Iranian cup winners Sepahan.

The 4-0 loss to Reysol will hurt a lot more now than it did before the demoralizing defeat to Sepahan, who eked out a 5-4 penalty-shootout win after 210 minutes of scoreless football in the two-leg tie.

Despite outplaying their opponents in both legs, Frontale were unable to put the sword to Sepahan, the result of an impotent offense that Sekizuka says has dogged the team for two months.

“We’ve found it difficult to score since August, and it was the same today (Wednesday). We’ve got to figure out what the problem is and fix it so we can get our league campaign back on track,” Sekizuka said at the post-match press conference.

Frontale may very well be at rock bottom, having won only three of their last 15 league games and having salt rubbed in their wounds by rivals Urawa, who advanced to the ACL semifinals on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea.

The disappointment of the last few months was clear for all to see on Wednesday, as a glum Sekizuka apologized for failing to take his team further in the continental championship.

“I am personally disappointed that I couldn't meet the expectations of those in the J.League and Japanese football in general. We had a good chance to progress after drawing away in the first match and I feel terrible for not living up to everyone’s expectations,” Sekizuka said.

Frontale need to shake off the hurt quickly, however, as the team is still in the thick of things in the Nabisco (league) Cup. Kawasaki play the Yokohama F. Marinos in a home-and-away semifinal for the right to meet either the Kashima Antlers or Gamba Osaka in the final on Nov. 3.
Motivating his troops will be a tall order for Sekizuka, who has seen his team go from confident and freewheeling to frustrated and vulnerable in the span of a year.

It will take a tremendous turnaround for Frontale to salvage anything from what is quickly becoming a shipwrecked season.

Copyright: C.G. Williams & Soccerphile

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