Monday 04 March 2013

Urawa lay down early title marker with victory in Hiroshima



Urawa Reds showed why they are many observers’ favourites for this year’s J1 title with a 2-1 opening day victory at the home of the reigning champions, Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Twelve months after ex-Sanfrecce boss Mihailo Petrović had taken his trademark 3-4-2-1 system to Urawa only to lose first time out against his former employers, the Serb was able to enjoy the satisfaction of revenge as Reds looked the stronger side from the outset.

The first goal came on 37 minutes when Genki Haraguchi dribbled inside from the left flank and rolled the ball back with his studs for Yosuke Kashiwagi to fire inside the near post. The midfielder was joined by fellow former Hiroshima stars Tomoaki Makino and Ryota Moriwaki, making his debut in Urawa colours after a winter switch, to celebrate excitedly on their old stomping ground.

Haraguchi broke inside again soon after the restart, this time from the right, for Urawa’s second. His right-footed shot appeared to have been badly mishit, but Sanfrecce ’keeper Shusaku Nishikawa somehow allowed it to squirm between his fingers.

The champions were quickly back in contention as Koji Morisaki’s perfect 30-yard free kick sailed over the wall and in off the bar. But the fightback never really materialised and Petrović’s men were good value for their three points – the first time in six years that Urawa had managed a maximum haul on the opening day.

Last year’s runners-up, Vegalta Sendai, were made to work hard in snowy conditions for a point at home to the J2 champions, Ventforet Kofu.

An energetic start from the visitors put Sendai onto the back foot, but they took the lead four minutes into the second period when Kodai Watanabe rose highest to head home a corner from Ryang Yong-Gi.

However, Kofu fought level when debutant Akito Kawamoto headed a bouncing ball beyond two Vegalta defenders for new Brazilian signing Hugo to finish past Takuto Hayashi.

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Yokohama F Marinos suffered a real scare at home to newly-promoted Shonan Bellmare but recovered to win 4-2 in the highest scoring fixture of the opening weekend.

No sooner had veteran Shunsuke Nakamura given Marinos the lead from a trademark free kick than Bellmare were level, when the mohawked Quirino hit a low 25-yard shot from left to right and into the bottom corner of the net.

The Brazilian then beat Yuji Nakazawa and coolly slotted home to put Shonan in front on the hour.

But the introduction of Manabu Saito turned the tide Yokohama’s way, as his low cross was met by Marquinhos at the far post for the equaliser, before the Japan Olympic international fired in himself with just seven minutes remaining.

Marquinhos added a late penalty to complete the scoring.

Elsewhere, an ill-advised attempt to roll out the ball by Oita Trinita goalkeeper Kenta Tanno spelt doom for the third promoted club as Aria Jasuru Hasegawa stole in for an easy FC Tokyo winner at Oita Bank Dome.

Omiya Ardija looked set for victory at home to Shimizu S-Pulse as a Calvin Jong-a-Pin own goal plus a Takuya Aoki strike had them 2-0 up after 65 minutes, but Afshin Ghotbi’s men fought back for a point thanks to 18-year-old Hideki Ishige and a crossed free kick-cum-shot from Kenta Uchida.

Nagoya Grampus were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Jubilo Iwata in a game that saw Marcus Tulio Tanaka limp off injured, while Sagan Tosu recovered from Yuya Osako’s opener to level through Yohei Toyoda as their meeting with Kashima Antlers finished with the same scoreline.

A looping volley in the 88th minute by Yoichiro Kakitani, the latest wearer of Cerezo Osaka’s legendary number eight jersey, was enough to seal victory in a battle of last season’s narrow survivors with Albirex Niigata, while 2011 champions Kashiwa Reysol recorded a 3-1 victory over Kawasaki Frontale in Sunday’s fixture.


J2 HIGHLIGHTS
Gamba Osaka needed two penalties to fight back for a dramatic 3-3 draw in their first ever second division match at home to Kyoto Sanga. Following a raft of away victories across the country, it is Ehime FC who sit atop the largely theoretical table after their 3-1 victory over Montedio Yamagata made them the only J2 team to win at home on opening day.


J1 results (matchday 1)
Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Ventforet Kofu
Yokohama F Marinos 4-2 Shonan Bellmare
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Jubilo Iwata
Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Urawa Reds
Sagan Tosu 1-1 Kashima Antlers
Omiya Ardija 2-2 Shimizu S-Pulse
Oita Trinita 1-2 FC Tokyo
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Kawasaki Frontale


J2 results (matchday 1)
Tochigi SC 0-1 Matsumoto Yamaga
JEF United Chiba 0-1 Consadole Sapporo
FC Gifu 0-2 Yokohama FC
Tokushima Vortis 0-1 Vissel Kobe
Tokyo Verdy 0-1 Avispa Fukuoka
Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-2 Kataller Toyama
Roasso Kumamoto 1-2 Gainare Tottori
Mito HollyHock 1-1 Thespakusatsu Gunma
Fagiano Okayama 1-1 V-Varen Nagasaki
Ehime FC 3-1 Montedio Yamagata
Gamba Osaka 3-3 Kyoto Sanga

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