CHIBA – Substitute Norio Suzuki struck a late blockbuster to preserve Vissel Kobe’s unbeaten start to the season after a 1-1 draw at JEF United Chiba in the J. League on Wednesday.
Daisuke Saito’s early opener looked set to give Chiba its first win of the season but Suzuki’s free kick in the dying minutes earned the visitors a deserved share of the points.
Kashima Antlers stayed prefect with a 2-0 win at Albirex Niigata while Nagoya Grampus are the only other unbeaten team in the top flight.
A 15th-minute effort from Yuzo Tashiro and a Mitsuo Ogasawara goal early in the second half saw Kashima make it four wins out of four and heap more misery on Niigata, which has yet to pick up a point so far this term.
Nagoya moved into second after two goals in the space of a minute from Takahiro Masukawa and Magnum earned Dragan Stojkovic’s men a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Omiya Ardija.
At Fukuda Denshi Arena, Chiba got off to a dream start as Saito drove home from just inside the box on four minutes after Kobe failed to deal with Mirko Hrgovic’s corner.
Australian defender Eddy Bosnar tried his luck from distance but Kobe goalkeeper Tatsuya Enomoto had little else to do in an otherwise tepid first half.
Kobe had rarely threatened at the other end and its hopes of getting back into the match appeared to suffer a setback when star striker Yoshito Okubo limped back to the dressing room at halftime.
Okubo came out for the second period although he probably wished he hadn’t after missing a glorious chance to pull the visitors level five minutes into the half.
Seiji Koga spurned two more decent opportunities as Kobe pushed for an equalizer, which finally came a minute from time when Suzuki hammered a free kick past Tomonori Tateishi from fully 30 meters.
“We made it difficult for ourselves conceding an early goal like that and it was very difficult to break Chiba down in the first half,” said Kobe manager Hiroshi Matsuda.
“I am pleased with the way we played in the second half and the players kept pushing for a goal right until the very end.”
Chiba manager Josip Kuze said, “March is always a difficult month but I feel the team is starting to take shape and if we can get three points on the board then our confidence will grow.”
In the day’s other key fixtures, Edmilson hit the winner as Asian club champions Urawa Reds came from a goal down to win 2-1 at Shimizu S-Pulse while Gamba Osaka won by the same scoreline at Oita Trinita.
Elsewhere it was: Consadole Sapporo 0, Kawasaki Frontale 2; Tokyo Verdy 1, Jubilo Iwata 2; Yokohama F Marinos 3, FC Tokyo 0; Kyoto Sanga 0, Kashiwa Reysol 1
Hulk rejoins Verdy
J. League club Tokyo Verdy announced Wednesday the acquisition of Brazilian striker Hulk, who parted company with fellow first-division side Kawasaki Frontale less than a month into the new season.
Verdy made a move for Hulk after Kawasaki decided to dismiss the 21-year-old, who voiced his frustration after being substituted in Kawasaki’s second game of the league campaign on March 15 — a 4-1 defeat at Vissel Kobe.
Hulk was subsequently left out of both of Frontale’s Nabisco Cup defeats to JEF United Chiba and Consadole Sapporo.
“I received offers from South Korean and Qatari clubs but I’m here because Verdy extended a warm reception to me,” Hulk said as he was introduced by the Tokyo club. “I’m confident I can quickly fit into the system here and score goals.”
Hulk has had spells with Kawasaki, Sapporo and Verdy, where he scored 37 league goals to top last year’s second-division scoring charts. Promoted Verdy wanted to regain his services after a lack of goalscoring prowess has seen them find the net just twice in five league and cup games this season.