Kashiwa Reysol were just moments away from being the beneficiaries of a draw between Buriram United and Guangzhou Evergrande which would have seen them win Group H and play the single elimination Round of 16 match at the Hitachi Soccer Stadium, before Dario Conca scored a last-minute penalty for the Southern China Tigers which changed both their opponents and destination in the next stage of the AFC Champions League.
Manager Nelsinho, who must now return to South Korea with the Sun Kings to face conquerers of FC Tokyo and Group F winners Ulsan Hyundai, will have been satisfied by the manner in which his players stifled Jeonbuk at the Jeonju World Cup Stadium, and beyond a late penalty for the home side that Lee Dong-Gook failed to convert, they created significantly better goalscoring opportunities.
The first half passed by with very little to recommend it, Jeonbuk perfectly content to sit deep and defend their superior position in the table against a Reysol side whose only hope of qualification was in taking all three points, and in the knowledge that the reigning J.League champions had won just twice away from home in 2012. Only Jorge Wagner forced Kim Min-Sik into making a save in the opening period, the left-midfielder running on to a Masato Kudo flick-on after a chipped Leandro Domingues cross, and the Brazilian whipped a left-footed shot from left of the eighteen-yard area which the goalkeeper beat away at his near post.
The crucial goal came shortly after the restart, courtesy of a defensive mix-up between Kim Sang-Sik and Jin Kyung-Sun. Naoya Kondo, stationed behind halfway, launched a long ball downfield which Sang-Sik could easily have cleared, but he chose instead to nod back to his teammate. Under pressure from Masato Kudo, the defender’s touch was too heavy, allowing Junya Tanaka to intercept and knock the ball into the path of an overlapping Leandro Domingues. The 2011 J.League Player of the Year took one touch before sending a low right-footed shot across Kim and into the bottom left corner of the goal.
It was a strike that changed the internal dynamics of the match, year’s K-League title winners forced on to the offensive to ensure they weren’t reliant on the only possible permutation of a draw in Thailand that would send them into the knockout stages, and in turn Reysol were able to exploit space in midfield which they hadn’t previously been afforded.
Five minutes later Naoya Kondo wasted a superb opportunity to extend the visitors’ lead. Jorge Wagner drifted a lazy set-piece from midfield into the penalty area, which Daisuke Nasu rose to meet and head back across goal. Kondo attempted to steer the ball inside the near post, but failed to find the right connection with his diving header from six yards when unmarked.
However, the more expansive play of the home side continued to present opportunities for Reysol to play on the counter-attack, and the game was largely over as a contest in the 63rd minute as a result of a move which Junya Tanaka started and finished. Picking up the ball in midfield, he shifted the ball to Leandro Domingues, whose first-time pass released the ever-adventurous Hiroki Sakai on the right-wing. The full-back squared for Domingues, who cut inside Kim Jung-Woo before driving left-footed from eighteen yards. While Kim Min-Sik saved smartly to his left, the goalkeeper was unlucky to see the ball roll against his upright, and Tanaka, who had continued his run, had the simplest of tap-ins.
Tanaka’s beautifully flighted pass with the edge of his right boot and back to goal deserved significantly more than Masato Kudo lobbing over the bar with only Min-Sik to beat, and Jeonbuk were gifted a way back into the match when Ali Hasan Ebrahim Abdulnabi pointed to the penalty spot, harshly judging Kondo to have fouled striker Lee Dong-Gook as both players went to ground. The decision was rendered irrelevant, however, as Dong-Gook’s powerful spot-kick beat the dive of Sugeno but not the woodwork, and the ball rebounded to safety. Time still remained for Jorge Wagner to bend a long-distance strike against the crossbar before Abdulnabi signalled for full-time, and last year’s finalists would learn later that they had been eliminated at the group stage, Conca’s penalty for Guangzhou condemning them to third place in Group H and an early exit.
Reysol will go into the last sixteen having seen Ulsan Hyundai’s victory over the Gas owed much to good fortune, and while they must travel to the Big Crown for the first of the knockout stages, should be confident that they can claim victory provided they perform to the same levels as in Jeonju.
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors||Kashiwa Reysol|