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Review: Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Kawasaki Frontale (J1 MD8)

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Leo Ceara's third goal in a row puts Cerezo at the top of the table, unbeaten in eight games since the start of the season.

Five days after their last match against Albirex Niigata, Cerezo Osaka returned home to face Kawasaki Frontale in the eighth round of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League. The starting lineup was changed by one player from the previous match. Masaya Shibayama replaced Sota Kitano at right back for his first start of the season. Justin Hubner was also on the bench for his first start at home.

In the fifth minute, two powerful Kawasaki attackers, Marcinho and Erison, broke through on the right flank, but goalkeeper Kim Jin Hyeon saved Erison's shot. Cerezo were able to hold off the threat, and from that point on, they pushed forward. In the build-up, Kyouhei Noborizato worked the ball inside alongside Shunta Tanaka, and on the right, Seiya Maikuma, Shibayama and Lucas Fernandes combined well to attack in space on several occasions. In the 8th minute, Leo Ceara cut off an opponent's back pass and dribbled in for his first chance, and Shibayama and Ceara followed up with good work to finish. Then, in the 34th minute, came the most decisive chance of the first half. The three players mentioned above combined down the right flank and Ceara headed Fernandes' cross just over the bar. The first half started with a bang, but after the 30th minute, Kawasaki's pressing caused some mistakes in passing, leading to some poor periods of play. Nevertheless, the first half was a testament to the commitment of what Akio Kogiku and Maikuma said the day before the match, to "increase the number and quality of our attempts on goal." The game ended with a goal, and that was all that was needed.

In the second half, however, Kawasaki went on the offensive right from the start. Cerezo was targeted on the left, behind Noborizato, who was playing against his old team. Cerezo found it harder than in the first half to get the ball into their opponents' territory, but one of their strengths this season has been their ability to not panic in such situations. They were able to calmly counter-attack Kawasaki and gradually regain their attacking rhythm, and in the 70th minute, Cerezo took the lead. Kawasaki attacked and Ienaga broke through to beat Noborizato, but Funaki was there to cover. Funaki covered the ball calmly and cleanly without committing a foul. From there, the ball was passed to Noborizato, Koji Toriumi and Maikuma, who made a good decision to pass to Fernandes in front of him. From that point on, the attack picked up speed. Fernandes dribbled past three opposing defenders and sent a pass to Capixaba on the left, who had a clear view of the ball and crossed it into the far side. Leo Ceara was there to pounce on the ball. The ball was headed home by Leo Ceara, who screamed with joy.

Cerezo, who had taken the lead with a goal from their ace for the third match in a row, immediately sent on Vitor Bueno and Hiroto Yamada to try and score a second goal. The pair and Ceara tried to attack in the middle of the field, but Kawasaki, who had made substitutions, fought back in the last 15 minutes. However, goalkeeper Kim Jin Hyeon saved all of the difficult crosses and mid-range shots. In the final minutes, Cerezo brought on Justin Hubner as he had in the previous match, and finished the match with a 5-4-1 formation. After the match, manager Kogiku praised his players, saying, "We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel that we are gradually becoming a strong and aggressive team that dominates possession and passes the ball around."

The result of this week's match has put Cerezo at the top of the table for the first time since the third section in 2020. However, everyone, coaches and players alike, understand that this is just a starting point. The manager said he was happy to see Cerezo Osaka's name at the top of the table, but he also vowed that the team would not be satisfied with its position and that everyone would continue to work hard while facing the challenges ahead. For Noborizato, who has spent 15 seasons with Kawasaki since turning professional, this match, his first against his old club, was a special one. "I was very emotional (before the match), but when the Cerezo supporters sang my chant during the warm-up, I was really encouraged and ready to take on the challenge. It was really reassuring," he said, thanking the Cerezo supporters. After the match, he also addressed Kawasaki manager Toru Oniki and the Kawasaki supporters. "I realized that my experience with Kawasaki has put me on the right track. I want to give more of that back to Cerezo and work towards the team's goal of winning the championship," he said, renewing his determination.

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