Tokyo Verdy killed off the unbeaten start of Nagoya Grampus to the J. League season with a shock 2-0 win at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Both sides struggled to make inroads in a scrappy first half played at a woefully pedestrian pace, but a 55th-minute goal from Diego sparked the match into life.
Grampus hit back as manager Dragan Stojkovic instructed his team to pump high balls toward towering strikers Frode Johnsen and Yuki Maki, but Verdy broke away to snatch a second through 18-year-old substitute Hiroki Kawano.
Tokyo manager Tetsuji Hashiratani praised Kawano for his well-taken header, but revealed that the youngster was not even expecting to add to the five appearances he has made so far in his fledgling career, let alone score.
“Kawano’s goal was a big surprise,” Hashiratani said.
“He hadn’t even been training with us before the match, but I’m very pleased that he took his opportunity.”
Nagoya began the day on top of the table, having won its last six matches in a row.
Hashiratani said the chance to claim the league’s top scalp gave his players all the motivation they needed.
“I told the players before the game that this was a big opportunity,” he said. “From the start we did what we have been practicing and kept it up for the whole 90 minutes.
“In the first half we concentrated on not conceding a goal. The issue was whether we could take one of the few chances that came up, and we did.”
Stojkovic remained philosophical in defeat, at the same stadium where he ended his playing career in July 2001.
“In my last game as a player in the J. League we won 3-0, but I felt sad at that time,” he said.
“Today I am sad because we lost the game, but I am not disappointed because I knew that it is practically impossible to win every game.
“We didn’t deserve to win the match today. We lost too many balls in the middle, and they played with much more aggression than we did.”
Neither team looked capable of seizing the initiative in a poor first half.
Takumi Wada’s raids down the right wing offered Tokyo its best attacking outlet, but the 26-year-old’s wasteful crossing ensured Seigo Narazaki wasn’t kept too busy in the Grampus goal.
Showers of rain didn’t help matters either, but Verdy’s Tomo Sugawara could not use that as an excuse when he clattered into Johnsen to earn himself the first yellow card of the game.
Yoichi Doi pulled off a good save in the Verdy goal as the first half limped to a close, tipping Keiji Tamada’s effort over the bar, but the quality improved after the interval.
Diego raised the stakes when he controlled a pass inside the box before turning and cracking the ball past Narazaki into the bottom corner of the net, and the goal gave the match the jolt it needed.
Nagoya looked to lanky striker Johnsen to provide an instant response, feeding the Norwegian with a battery of crosses as Stojkovic brought on Maki to add even more height and muscle up front.
Keita Sugimoto spurned a gilt-edged chance to draw level when he looped a header over the bar in the 65th minute, but Verdy rode the storm to score a second goal with a rare surge forward.
Wada sent a cross into the box from a free-kick, and Kawano, the second-shortest player on the pitch at 165 cm, jumped highest to plant his header into the back of the net.
Doi made another fantastic save as Grampus frantically chased the game in the closing minutes, and Verdy clung on despite late efforts from Johnsen and Masaki Fukai.
Reds rout Sanga
Naohiro Takahara finally opened his account for Urawa Reds with a brace and Marcus Tulio Tanaka also scored twice in a 4-0 win at promoted Kyoto Sanga on Saturday, with all the goals coming in the space of 18 second-half minutes.
Elsewhere, FC Tokyo, third at the start of the day, missed the chance to close the gap after Naoaki Aoyama’s header on the stroke of halftime gave Shimizu S-Pulse a 1-0 win at Nihondaira Stadium.
Yokohama F. Marinos also tasted defeat after going down 1-0 away to Oita Trinita, Yuki Fukaya grabbing the decider on 32 minutes, while Albirex Niigata made it two wins in a row with a 1-0 defeat of 10-man Consadole Sapporo.
In Saturday’s late games, Jubilo Iwata sentenced winless JEF United Chiba to a 2-1 defeat thanks to a Gilsinho double, while a late winner saw Kawasaki Frontale come from two goals down to edge Kashiwa Reysol 3-2.