KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Leandro Domingues lived up to his billing as reigning J. League Player of the Year with a five-star performance Sunday, but Hiroyuki Taniguchi stole the show with a dramatic late equalizer as Yokohama F. Marinos held champions Kashiwa Reysol 3-3 in a gripping season opener.
Leandro was involved as Reysol twice took the lead through Hiroki Sakai and Junya Tanaka, respectively, only for Nelsinho’s men to be pegged back by goals from Masashi Oguro and highly touted forward Manabu Saito.
The Brazilian appeared to have sealed victory in the 64th minute, beating Hiroki Iikura with a delicate but deadly strike that would have provided Reysol with a major lift following defeat midweek in their Asian Champions League debut.
But Taniguchi, who entered the fray in the 82nd minute, had the last word, bundling home in the first minute of injury time.
“Overall I am not satisfied with the result but I am very pleased with the attitude and spirit that my players showed,” said Kashiwa boss Nelsinho.
“The third goal we conceded was down to carelessness on our part but the result was also down to the battling spirit our opponents showed.”
Nelsinho made just one change to the side that started in Wednesday’s 3-2 defeat to Thai champions Buriram United, with new signing Ricardo Lobo partnering Tanaka at the expense of veteran striker Hideaki Kitajima.
The game exploded into life with less than three minutes gone as Sakai fired Reysol in front, the Japan Under-23 defender prodding in after Jorge Wagner had acrobatically flicked on Leandro’s free kick.
At the other end, Yuji Ono forced Takanori Sugeno into action and with shades of offside, former Japan forward Oguro briefly silenced the sea of yellow fans in the expanded stand behind the goal when he struck from close range.
But Kashiwa needed just five minutes to restore its advantage and it was the Leandro-Wagner hotline at work once again, Tanaka applying the finishing touch in front of national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
Yokohama struggled to contain Wagner, who twice had headers saved by Iikura as Kashiwa pushed for a third, and Leandro went close when he found the roof of the net two minutes into the second period.
Yokohama, not for the first time on a sunny afternoon in north Chiba, had a strong claim for a penalty waved away when Wataru Hashimoto appeared to handle in the area in the 49th minute.
And the visitors will probably feel justice was done, if only partially, on the hour mark as Saito let rip with a blockbuster that flew into the left-hand corner to briefly draw them level.
Yokohama manager Yasuhiro Higuchi was pleased his team had produced three goals in the absence of injured striker Marquinhos, but also admitted that some dubious officiating by referee Nobutsugu Murakami had been a source of stress.
“You have to give the players credit for the fight they put up. They showed the right mentality and this will give us something to build on in our next game,” said Higuchi.
“To be quite frank (the referee’s decisions) stressed me out but that is soccer and sometimes you just have to swallow it.”