FC Tokyo’s perfect start to the new season collapsed with an 88th-minute equalizer as South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai salvaged a 2-2 draw in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday.
An exquisite lob from Yuhei Tokunaga eight minutes before halftime looked to have set Tokyo up for two ACL wins out of two at National Stadium — to go with a 100 percent record from two J. League fixtures — only for Kim Seung Yong to pull the visitors level with 10 minutes left to play.
Yohei Kajiyama restored Tokyo’s lead just three minutes later, but there was no way back when on-loan Ventforet Kofu striker Maranhao pounced with 2 minutes left on the clock to claim a share of the spoils for the Koreans.
“I’m not angry with the result or the performance,” said Tokyo manager Ranko Popovic. “But some of my players seemed to think that the game was finished before the final whistle.
“We were playing a top-level team today, and there were a lot of positives to take from the game. But we need to be able to see out the result until the game has finished. Today we lacked the experience to do that.”
Tokyo tops Group F on goal difference ahead of Ulsan on four points, with pointless Brisbane Roar of Australia and China’s Beijing Guoan going head to head later in the day.
The games continue to come thick and fast with Vissel Kobe up next for Tokyo in the J. League on Saturday, however, and Popovic is anxious to make sure his players can cope.
“The important thing is that they are able to prepare mentally,” the Serbian said. “More than the physical aspect they have to make sure they are ready mentally, because if you are not then you make mistakes.”
Ulsan fielded a lineup packed with J. League experience — including Japan midfielder Akihiro Ienaga, on loan from Spain’s Real Mallorca — but it was Tokyo that took the lead against the run of play.
Naohiro Ishikawa picked out Tokunaga with a low, raking corner to the edge of the box, and the right-back caught goalkeeper Kim Young Kwang off his line with a delicate floated chip.
Tokyo got to grips with the game as the second half wore on, but former Gamba Osaka striker Kim Seung Yong put Ulsan back in the hunt when he charged through the heart of the Tokyo defense before slotting past Shuichi Gonda.
Kajiyama looked to have pulled the iron out of the fire three minutes later, taking a pass from substitute Naotake Hanyu just inside the box and firing into the far corner.
But Maranhao had the last word, escaping down the right as time ran down before sending the ball past Gonda with a deft touch.
“This was a game we should have won, and it was a waste that we didn’t,” said Kajiyama. “Hanyu gave me a good pass for my goal and fortunately I was able to put it away. But this was an important game and it would have been good to win it.”
Gamba were set to take on Adelaide United away in Group E later on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Nagoya Grampus are away to Australia’s Central Coast Mariners and Kashiwa Reysol take on South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors at home.
Antlers down Vissel
Japan Under-23 striker Yuya Osako and Yasushi Endo were both on target as Kashima Antlers launched their defense of the Nabisco Cup with a comfortable 2-0 win at home to Vissel Kobe on Tuesday.
Osako opened the scoring with a well-taken header and Endo netted a scrappy second late in the first half to give new manager Jorginho his first win in charge after Antlers had begun their league campaign with consecutive 1-0 defeats to Vegalta Sendai and Kawasaki Frontale.
Also in Group B, Albirex Niigata won 1-0 at promoted Consadole Sapporo courtesy of Alan Mineiro’s 38th-minute strike.
In Group A, Mitsuru Nagata struck the only goal of the game as last year’s beaten finalists Urawa Reds edged Vegalta Sendai 1-0 at home.