SAITAMA – Omiya Ardija ruined Cerezo Osaka’s return to the top flight by cruising to an emotional 3-0 win in their season opener in the J. League on Sunday.
First-half goals from Hayato Hashimoto and Naoki Ishihara put the Squirrels in the driver’s seat and Rafael secured the points with the third eight minutes from time at Nack 5 Stadium.
Moving scenes followed the final whistle in Saitama as defender Taishi Tsukamoto, who recently revealed he has bone cancer in his right leg, ran onto the pitch to exchange warm embraces with his teammates.
“He (Tsukamoto) is always going to be our (squad) No. 2. We wanted to make a big effort just for Taishi today,” said Omiya midfielder Chikara Fujimoto, choking back tears in a pitch side interview.
“Our game plan went perfectly and I’m satisfied. We played outside ourselves today,” said Fujimoto. “The season has only just begun but hopefully this win will put us on a roll.”
Omiya, which flirted with relegation last season, controlled the first half and took the lead when Hashimoto’s right-wing corner sailed over everyone and crept inside the far post on 14 minutes.
Ardija continued to lay siege to Cerezo’s goal and their second goal arrived on the stroke of half time, Ishihara sweeping home a pass from Brazilian striker Rafael.
Cerezo’s fading hopes of finding a way back into the game were extinguished when Rafael buried the third after Mato Neretljak’s free kick had come crashing down off the cross bar.
In Sunday’s only other game, Vissel Kobe also got off to a winning start, a brace from Popo securing a 2-0 win at home to Kyoto Sanga.