J. League champion Frontale looking to extend dominance across Asia

Kawasaki Frontale can take the following step after dominating Japanese soccer by changing into an Asian powerhouse, specialists say, after watching the membership from the Tokyo suburbs win its fourth J. League title in 5 years.

Frontale, which wrapped up the championship final week with 4 video games to spare, has misplaced solely twice all season and has racked up a J. League document 85 factors thus far.

Japanese soccer specialists imagine Kawasaki is simply getting began and has the potential to make its mark on the AFC Champions League, Asia’s premier membership competitors.

“They’ll proceed to have a powerful group they usually’re making ready to renovate their stadium, which can entice extra followers when it’s completed,” mentioned Takeshi Eto, a soccer journalist who has lined Frontale for 20 years.

“They’re not in Tokyo however they’re within the Tokyo space. I feel they’re a group that may grow to be identified all through Asia.”

Frontale has received 4 J. League titles, one Emperor’s Cup and one League Cup in its historical past — all within the final 5 years.

However the membership has but to make an affect within the Asian Soccer Confederation’s flagship Champions League, having by no means gone previous the quarterfinals in eight appearances.

Frontale exited this yr’s competitors on the first knockout stage, the spherical of 16, dropping on penalties to defending champion Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea after having received all their group matches.

Former Frontale midfielder Kengo Nakamura says the membership “can’t transfer as much as the following degree” with out success within the AFC Champions League.

“With annually, everyone seems to be extra decided to do properly in Asia,” mentioned Nakamura, who retired in January after taking part in nearly 700 video games for Frontale.

“Subsequent season, they’re actually going to go for it. However the gamers should be prepared as a result of the extent in Asia is getting higher.”

Some doubted whether or not Frontale might defend their league title this season, after membership legend Nakamura retired and midfielder Hidemasa Morita moved to Portugal.

Frontale suffered one other blow over the summer season when ahead Kaoru Mitoma and midfielder Ao Tanaka each left for Europe.

However supervisor Toru Oniki has saved the membership on a good keel since taking on on the finish of 2016, and he took this yr’s modifications in his stride.

“I knew that if I trusted within the gamers, we’d get good outcomes,” Oniki mentioned after clinching the league title.

“An important factor is to belief within the gamers. That’s what I’ve believed over these previous 5 years.”

Oniki performed for Frontale within the Nineties and 2000s and has been a part of the membership’s teaching setup since retiring in 2006.

For a lot of that point, Frontale was generally known as a group that persistently challenged for honors however at all times fell simply brief.

Nakamura credit Oniki for demanding that the gamers “go the additional mile.”

“Once we received the title for the primary time, the environment modified fully,” Nakamura mentioned.

“We understood that what we had been doing for the entire season was the proper approach. Till we received a title, we didn’t know what it meant to be a profitable group.”

Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao is Frontale’s high scorer this season with 17 targets, however a number of different gamers have stood out.

Marauding left-back Reo Hatate performed his approach into Japan’s squad for this month’s World Cup qualifiers, whereas right-back Miki Yamane additionally made his worldwide debut this yr.

Oniki has discovered a stability of youth and expertise, with veterans resembling South Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong and midfielder Akihiro Ienaga once more proving their price.

However European sides are prone to come sniffing round Frontale’s gamers once more this winter, and Nakamura is aware of the longer term won’t all be easy crusing.

“Numerous groups have lengthy intervals of success however all groups have dips — what counts is how a lot you’ll be able to reduce that,” he mentioned.

“A yr will come after they don’t win something, they usually must be ready for a way they’ll act when that occurs.”

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