OSAKA – Unfashionable Omiya Ardija burst Cerezo Osaka’s bubble with a 1-0 win in monsoon-like conditions in the J. League first division on Sunday.
Rafael struck the decider to bring Cerezo back to earth after reaching the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League in midweek with a memorable win over crosstown rival Gamba Osaka, leaving Levir Culpi’s men winless from seven games of the league campaign.
“I honestly cannot give you a reason,” Culpi replied when asked why Cerezo have yet to win in the league. “I told my players not to drop off (after the ACL win) but I guess they were a bit careless.”
The Brazilian coach also refused to blame the atrocious conditions for his team’s first defeat at Kincho Stadium.
“It was the same for our opponents,” he said. “We have to respond to the situation and change our style of soccer.”
With a torrential downpour from an approaching typhoon turning the pitch into a swamp, a soccer spectacle was never going to be on the cards, but Rafael’s 14th-minute effort had first class stamped all over it.
The lanky Brazilian forward took a great first touch after Keigo Higashi had headed on Daisuke Watabe’s ball, and smashed past Kim Jin Hyeon from the tightest of angles.
Higashi went close to doubling the visitors’ advantage with a rasping drive that drew a fine one-handed save from Kim on 27 minutes, and the Japan Under-22 midfielder missed an even better chance when he was again denied by Kim from point-blank range just before halftime.
“I should have done better but I got an assist as Rafa (Rafael) was able to put that chance away, and I’m pleased about that,” said Higashi.
“I thought Cerezo would be feeling heavy at the start after the ACL and we set about them and got an early goal and that was the key to the win.”
Cerezo, which has conceded first in six of its seven league games so far this term, was limited to a couple of half chances in the first period from Rui Komatsu and Martinez, and was unable to find an equalizer despite dominating much of the second half.
Cerezo was Japan’s only representative to reach the last eight of the ACL as Kashima Antlers and J. League champions Nagoya Grampus were both eliminated by South Korean opposition.
Nagoya was twice pegged back but rebounded with a 5-2 win at home to struggling Avispa Fukuoka, three late goals from Jungo Fujimoto, substitute Igor Burzanovic and Keiji Tamada, his second of the game, condemning the visitors to their eighth defeat in as many games.
Kengo Nakamura capped a miserable week for Gamba as he completed a double in the fourth minute of injury time to give Kawasaki Frontale a 2-1 win at Todoroki Stadium.
In Sunday’s evening kickoff, Koji Morisaki was also on target twice, his last-gasp winner giving Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 2-1 win over Kashima at Big Arch.