SAITAMA – FC Tokyo made a winning return to the J. League first division with a 1-0 victory over Omiya Ardija as the new season got under way on Saturday.
Tokyo won the second division at the first time of asking last year following a shock relegation in 2010, but Omiya left the capital city side in no doubt that life in the top flight will be a different story after dominating the first half at Nack5 Stadium.
But Brazilian striker Lucas struck in the 61st minute as Tokyo found new life after the break, and Omiya could find no reply as the visitors went on to control the second half and give new manager Ranko Popovic the start to the season he was looking for.
“It’s amazing that we came away with the win when you consider the first 30 minutes,” said the Serbian. “We were still sleeping for the first half an hour, we were making mistakes and the other team was playing very well. We started moving the ball around 15 minutes before halftime, and after that we went on to control the game.”
Omiya had to wait until late August before picking up its first home win last season, but manager Jun Suzuki was unconcerned at missing the chance to exorcise those demons from the outset of the new campaign.
“Both teams were very aggressive and pressed hard, so after that it was disappointing to lose the game 1-0,” he said. “But we didn’t play badly. We can take confidence from this and move forward.”
New Tokyo signing Kenichi Kaga almost got his league debut off to the worst possible start when his slip let in Keigo Higashi as early as the first minute, but goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda spared the defender’s blushes with a smart diving save.
Gonda again came to Tokyo’s rescue with a fantastic double stop from Cho Young Cheol midway through the first half, before Rafael went tantalizingly close after sliding in at the back post.
Tokyo went into the interval lucky to be on level terms, but the visitors returned for the second half with renewed vigor and it was not entirely against the run of play when Lucas gave them the lead shortly after the hour mark. The Brazilian flicked the ball up when it came to him on the edge of the box, then swiveled to lash a fierce shot past Takashi Kitano.
“What we need to do now is keep this going,” said Popovic. “This is only the start of the season.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Vegalta Sendai claimed an emotional 1-0 win over Kashima Antlers, with Taikai Uemoto’s 62nd-minute header settling a meeting of two teams who were temporarily displaced from their home stadiums last season in the wake of the March 11 natural disasters.
Nagoya Grampus also made a winning start — 1-0 over Shimizu S-Pulse — while Urawa Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic endured an unhappy visit to former team Sanfrecce Hiroshima as Hisato Sato gave the home side a 1-0 victory.
Vissel Kobe beat Gamba Osaka 3-2 in one of the day’s few high-scoring games, with Consadole Sapporo drawing 0-0 with Jubilo Iwata and Sagan Tosu also playing out a scoreless tie with Cerezo Osaka.
Kawasaki Frontale beat Albirex Niigata 1-0, while defending champions Kashiwa Reysol begin their campaign against Yokohama F. Marinos in Sunday’s only fixture.