SENDAI – Vegalta Sendai followed in the footsteps of their baseball team to defeat Urawa Reds 1-0 in their first home game of the J. League season on Saturday.
Yoshiaki Ota struck for the second straight match, nodding in the winner late in the first half for Makoto Teguramori’s side at Yurtec Stadium.
Ota scored the second-half equalizer in Sendai’s 2-1 win at Kawasaki Frontale last Saturday.
Vegalta have two wins and a draw from their first three games this year.
“I’m just glad I did my part by scoring the goal in a game as important as this,” Ota said.
As part of the first sporting events to be held in a disaster area since the March 11 earthquake, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles beat the Orix Buffaloes 3-1 in baseball on the other side of the city.
The match was preceded by a moment of silence and speeches from Miyagi Gov. Yoshihiro Murai and Sendai Mayor Emiko Okuyama, who rallied on the sellout crowd of 18,456 and took a good-natured dig at the Urawa supporters, the most vocal group of fans in the league.
“Today marks the kickoff of our recovery from disaster,” Murai said.
“We want to thank the Urawa fans for coming out all the way for this match.”
Urawa, which defeated champions Nagoya Grampus 3-0 at home last Sunday, saw far more time on the ball but failed to penetrate Sendai’s tenacious defense.
Vegalta struck against the run of play in the 40th minute, when Ryang Yong Gi chased down a loose ball deep down the right wing. Ota rose over midfielder Nobuhisa Yamada to glance a header for the game’s only goal.
Elsewhere in the J. League, Kashima Antlers won their first game of the season with a 2-1 away win to promoted Avispa Fukuoka.
Fukuoka grabbed the lead late in the opening half through Koskuke Nakamachi. But Kashima fought back after halftime through goals by Yuya Osako in the 59th minute, followed by Japan defender Daiki Iwamasa’s winner after 71 minutes.
Yokohama F. Marinos drew 1-1 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse thanks to Shingo Hyodo’s late equalizer, while Omiya Ardija produced a 1-0 away win over Vissel Kobe.
Kashiwa Reysol beat Ventforet Kofu 2-1 at home to maintain their perfect start.
Yuya Osako in the 59th minute, followed by Japan defender Daiki Iwamasa’s winner after 71 minutes.
Cerezo, meanwhile, were held to a 1-1 draw in Osaka by Albirex Niigata.
Grampus rebounded quickly from their defeat to Urawa as Dragan Stojkovic’s side beat Frontale 2-0 thanks to a goal in each half from Keiji Tamada in an evening match at Mizuho Stadium.
Adriano’s first-half brace and Lee Keun Ho’s 86th-minute winner propelled Gamba Osaka to a 3-2 win over Montedio Yamagata at Expo Stadium, while Jubilo drew 1-1 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Iwata.