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Abe's free kick, Kengo's relief

8 Oct 2009(Thu)

October 7, 2009: Two of Japan's national squad members caught the eye over the weekend - one for his sumptuous free kick and the other for his grass-slapping celebration of a teammate's crucial goal.

First to Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday, where Yuki Abe's free kick against his old team JEF United was the talk of the town.

Some 20 metres out, Abe had a five-man wall in front of him, with Aoki, Fukumoto and Maki forming the central three positions. 

Unlike some defensive walls, which break apart and leave gaps, or in which players shut their eyes or even duck under the ball, this JEF wall held firm and jumped high to try and block. Still Abe was able to float it over the right section of the wall and bring the ball down inside the near post of Okamoto, who pulls off some astonishing saves in open play but couldn't get a finger on this one.

For JEF it was a bitter disappointment, the goal coming just three minutes after Fukai had fired the visitors in front,  but for Reds it just got better with every replay on the big screen; the gasps of appreciation growing in volume with every angle of the goal.

Although Okamoto will feel he should have done better in covering that area of his goal, it should not take anything away from Abe's beautifully-flighted, almost nonchalant execution. Having watched Abe score one of the best goals I have ever seen in Japan - a blistering, curling free kick around the wall against Costa Rica in an Olympic friendly on the road to Athens 2004 - I have often wondered why he doesn't take more for Reds. Maybe this strike against JEF will change that.

From Saista to Todoroki on Sunday, where Frontale banked the three points with a 2-0 win over Marinos. After Taniguchi's wonderful header had put them in front on 74 minutes, Renatinho sealed victory nine minutes later with a cool finish from Juninho's pass.

What amused me, well away from the goal celebrations, was the reaction of Kengo Nakamura. He dropped to his knees near the halfway line and beat the turf in relief, knowing they had overcome a big test of character just four days after crashing out of the ACL.

Kengo knew this was a big one, and it was also interesting to see him gather his troops in a circle after the final whistle and reaffirm their spirit and ambition. The ACL is gone, but the league championship is still very much within their grasp.