KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – J. League leaders Vegalta Sendai preserved their unbeaten start to the season and took the defending champions’ scalp in the process with a 3-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday.
Vegalta twice took the lead only to be pegged back at Hitachi Stadium, with goals from Naoki Sugai and Kunimitsu Sekiguchi canceled out both times by reigning league MVP Leandro Domingues.
But there was no way back when Shingo Akamine struck the winner in the 78th minute, and a late red card for Leandro compounded the misery for a Kashiwa side that has now lost half of its opening six matches.
“I told my players to get ready for a tough game against the champions,” said Sendai manager Makoto Teguramori. “It was important to be psychologically strong until the end, and even if we weren’t able to play well we had to make sure we got the win.
“In sports it’s not always just about skill and technique. It’s also about desire and the will to win.”
Vegalta managed only 39 goals last season despite finishing fourth in the table, but 14 in six games already this term is a markedly different return.
“Reysol are champions and they are a great team, but we were able to show what we are capable of and score goals,” said Akamine. “I’m happy that I managed to score. We are playing the kind of football that the manager wants, and if we can keep expressing ourselves we will pick up wins regardless of who is in the lineup.”
Sugai put Kashiwa immediately on the back foot when he thundered home a header from Yoshiaki Ota’s 2nd-minute corner, but Shingo Tomita almost handed the home side an equalizer when he headed against the underside of his own crossbar midway through the first half.
Leandro needed no help to find the target 10 minutes after the interval, curling a textbook free kick into the bottom corner after substitute Hideaki Kitajima had won a foul on the edge of the box.
Parity did not last long, however, as Sekiguchi and Wilson combined before the latter restored Vegalta’s lead less than a minute after the restart.
But Reysol were not finished yet, and Leandro bagged his second in the 66th minute after a mistake by Sendai goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi. Masato Fujita swung in a high, deep cross to the back post, and Hayashi allowed Leandro’s side-footed volley to squirm through his legs and over the line.
But the last word belonged to Akamine as the striker found himself free in the Kashiwa box to turn home Ota’s cross, and an 88th-minute red card for Leandro after an elbow on Taikai Uemoto brought the curtain down on Reysol’s afternoon.
“We’re not playing badly but we gave the opposition three goals,” said Kashiwa manager Nelsinho. “I will speak to Leandro in private about the red card — what I say will not be in front of the media.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, an injury-time goal from Yasushi Endo gave Kashima Antlers their first win of the season — 2-1 over FC Tokyo — but Yokohama F. Marinos are still waiting for theirs after drawing 1-1 with Omiya Ardija. Urawa Reds continue their impressive form with a 2-0 win over Vissel Kobe, Shimizu S-Pulse defeated Jubilo Iwata 3-2 and Nagoya Grampus topped Consadole Sapporo 3-1.
In the day’s late games, Sanfrecce Hiroshima were at Sagan Tosu, Gamba Osaka hosted Kawasaki Frontale, and Albirex Niigata visited Cerezo Osaka.