KAWASAKI – Vegalta Sendai enjoyed a fairy tale return to J. League action as Jiro Kamata scored an 87th-minute winner to give the stricken Miyagi Prefecture side a 2-1 victory over Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday.
Without a home since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged their stadium and training facilities, Vegalta had been preparing for the return of the suspended season with training camps in Chiba and Saitama. That looked like it had taken its toll when Yusuke Tanaka gave Frontale a first-half lead at Todoroki Stadium, but with the support of fans who had made the journey from the devastated Tohoku region behind them, accepting defeat was never an option for Vegalta.
Yoshiaki Ota lashed home a deflected 73rd-minute equalizer as the visitors found their second wind, and Kamata completed a remarkable turnaround when he headed in Ryang Yong Gi’s free kick with three minutes left on the clock.
“We went behind but ended up taking all three points,” said defender Kamata. “Ota’s goal was a scrappy one, but with the power of the fans it went into the net. Then I got on the end of a great cross from Ryang, and in injury time we were telling each to just do whatever it took to protect our lead.”
Vegalta manager Makoto Teguramori admitted the six-week layoff had left him unsure what to expect from his players’ physical condition, but never doubted the effort they would give to the cause.
“I didn’t really know what kind of game it would be today,” he said. “We knew we would be the team that everyone was watching.
“After we conceded the first goal it would have been very difficult if we had conceded another, but we stuck in and got the equalizer. Then with the supporters and with the feelings of the whole country behind us, we got the winner.
“We’re very grateful to Frontale for such a warm welcome today. The Vegalta players have been trying tremendously hard for Tohoku, and it brings tears to the eyes to see it. Now we have to build on this win to try and bring some joy to the region.”
Both teams struggled to cope with driving rain and high winds in a disjointed first half, but there was nothing sloppy about the way Frontale took the lead in the 37th minute. Kyohei Noborizato split the Sendai defense to find Koji Yamase raiding down the right, and the midfielder skimmed over a low cross for Tanaka to slot home.
Things threatened to get worse for the visitors when Kengo Nakamura fizzed a shot over the crossbar 10 minutes after the interval, but Ota turned the tide just as it looked like Sendai could find no way back. Shingo Akamine played the ball across the box, and Ota stretched to fire off a sliding shot that took a deflection off Tomonobu Yokoyama before bouncing over the goal line.
Then with Frontale pushing for the winner, Vegalta landed the sucker punch as Kamata lost his marker to thunder a header past Rikihiro Sugiyama.
“I told my players not to think too much about who the opponent was,” said Frontale manager Naoki Soma.
“In the end we were defeated by the spirit of the team playing for the people in the disaster zone. They were very difficult opponents, and that could well be our most difficult game this season.”
Elsewhere in a day of afternoon kickoffs in the J. League, Kashima Antlers slumped to a 3-0 defeat to Yokohama F. Marinos in a game played at National Stadium with Kashima still unable to host games at its damaged home.
Promoted Kashiwa Reysol made it two wins out of two with a 1-0 victory away to Omiya Ardija, while Shimizu S-Pulse got their first points of the season with a 1-0 win over Avispa Fukuoka. In the day’s other game, Ventforet Kofu and Vissel Kobe drew 1-1.
Request for assistance
Japan Football Association President Junji Ogura said Saturday that he has sought help from FIFA through its Goal Program to help cover costs related to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Ogura said he has spoken with FIFA President Sepp Blatter as well as Asian Football Confederation President Mohamed bin Hammam, who is in charge of the Goal Program, about securing funding to aid the J. League which restarted Saturday for the first time since the quake struck.
The Goal Program assists FIFA’s member associations usually in building infrastructure such as association headquarters and technical centers.
Ogura, a FIFA executive committee member, hopes he can receive a positive reply from Blatter when the two meet next week in Paraguay for Nicholas Leoz’s 25th anniversary as CONMEBOL president.
“To repair all the stadiums and training facilities, we reckon we will need at least 40 billion yen,” Ogura said. “If we can get even partial aid, it will be a big help.”
“Last week, I went to Hong Kong where I met with Hammam, who is in charge of the Goal Program. I briefed him on the latest in Japan and the costs it would take, and the information has been passed on to FIFA,” he said.
“I’ll meet with Blatter in Paraguay next week and we’ll go into details then.”
Ogura said the only minus is that Japan is a wealthy country compared with the countries that often receive aid from the Goal Program.
“In the past, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand have been helped after quakes and tsunamis,” he said.
“They received special aid then, but Japan is widely perceived as being a rich nation so it might not be easy.”
“But in Japan, most of the stadiums are owned by local governments which, right now, are pouring all their resources into rebuilding lifelines. The priority is not on sports right now so FIFA might see things differently,” he said.
Major League Soccer says the Los Angeles Galaxy will make the decision on whether to attempt to re-sign David Beckham based on his soccer ability and not his celebrity.
MLS President Mark Abbott said “there have been so many benefits” to the league’s having Beckham, who is in the final season of a $32.5 million, five-year contract he signed to leave Real Madrid.
The midfielder, who turns 36 next month, has been criticized for leaving the Galaxy twice on loan to AC Milan.
Beckham missed most of the 2010 season after tearing an Achilles’ tendon while playing in Italy.
Beckham will travel next week to London for the royal wedding on April 29. The Galaxy play at Dallas on May 1, but Abbott said the league doesn’t have an issue with his schedule.
“He came here first and foremost as a soccer player,” Abbott said Thursday at a meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. “You can’t ignore that he’s a famous soccer player.”