Expectations for Kawasaki Frontale at the AFC Champions League were sky high after the defending MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE champions set a slew of records last year and then raced out to an undefeated start this season. And still their performance in the group stage of Asia’s continental championship somehow exceeded those expectations.
Kawasaki Frontale won all six of their matches in Group I play, scoring 27 goals and conceding just three for a +24 goal difference that was seven goals better than the next best team in the Champions League.
Playing behind closed doors in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where the entirety of Group I was held due to the pandemic, Frontale came from behind to win their first match, 3-2, against Daegu FC. The match began quickly, with the South Korean side scoring in the seventh minute before Leandro Damião equalized shortly thereafter. Daegu FC scored again to retake the lead, but Frontale took control from there. Damião scored a second goal, and then João Schmidt bagged a 55th minute winner to deliver Frontale the victory.
Frontale were dominant from then on, beating Chinese club Beijing Guoan F.C., 7-0, in the next match, with six different players scoring. Kento Tachibanada led the way in the next match, scoring a hat trick as Frontale throttled Filipino club United City. Another win over United City, this time by a score of 2-0 followed.
A rematch with Daegu FC was next for Frontale, and Kawasaki leaned on Damião to lead them past the side from South Korea. The striker notched a hat trick to make it five goals in two matches against Daegu FC as Frontale won, 3-1. Finally, a 3-0 win over Beijing Guoan wrapped up the round.
This marks the first time Frontale have ever advanced to the knockout stages of the Champions League, and now they’re set to take on the competition's holders, Ulsan Hyundai, in a one-legged Round of 16 tie in South Korea.