The start of the 2013 J. League season last Saturday brought with it the chance for a new beginning, but some teams were more determined than others to break with tradition on the opening day.
Urawa Reds went into their game at champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima having lost each of their previous five opening fixtures, and having never begun a season with an away win in 20 years of league history. Goals either side of halftime from Yosuke Kashiwagi and Genki Haraguchi put Reds on their way to laying those ghosts to rest, and not even a 55th-minute reply from Koji Morisaki could prevent the visitors from leaving with a 2-1 victory.
Nagoya Grampus began their clash with Jubilo Iwata looking to avoid the touch of death from opposing striker Ryoichi Maeda. The team that Maeda has scored his first goal of the campaign against has gone on to be relegated in each of the past six seasons, but having allowed a one-goal lead to turn into a 1-1 draw at Toyota Stadium, Grampus were hardly about to celebrate seeing Jubilo midfielder Hiroki Yamada’s name on the scoresheet instead.
J1 new boys Ventforet Kofu, Shonan Bellmare and Oita Trinita headed into their games knowing that no promoted team had ever gone on to be relegated after winning its top-flight opener, but the trio were left to draw only encouragement — and not three points — from their spirited performances. Bellmare and Trinita both led against established opposition before coming away empty-handed, but Ventforet can be pleased with a point after earning a 1-1 draw with last season’s runnerup Vegalta Sendai.
One team glad to maintain the status quo was Yokohama F. Marinos, for whom midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura continued his record of scoring from a free kick in each of his 17 years as a professional. Nakamura’s strike helped Marinos beat Bellmare 4-2, giving the club its first season-opening win in five years in the process.
But while such statistics can provide an interesting distraction as the campaign begins, the only numbers that really matter are the points each team has on the day it ends.
That is still a long way off, but at least now we are up and running.
Toninho Cerezo took his place in the dugout to begin his second stint as Kashima Antlers manager on Saturday, and the Brazilian had plenty of food for thought after his side’s 1-1 draw with Sagan Tosu.
Cerezo led Antlers to two J. League titles, two Nabisco Cups and one Emperor’s Cup from 2000-05, but it was a changed landscape that greeted his return this year with the club coming off the back of an 11th-place league finish.
After watching Sagan’s Yohei Toyoda cancel out Yuya Osako’s 32nd-minute strike on Saturday, Cerezo knows there is much work to be done.
“If you look at our record last year then you will see that we conceded too many goals, so the first thing we have to do is build a solid foundation in defense,” he said. “That is not something that will happen overnight. We need time, and that will be my first priority.”
Cerezo Osaka may have lost more than their fair share of star players in recent years, but Saturday’s 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata proved there is still plenty of talent remaining.
Yoichiro Kakitani latched onto Takahiro Ogihara’s long through-ball before stretching to prod it over the goalkeeper and snatch the win in the 88th minute, leaving the striker hungry for more over the course of the season to come.
“If a chance comes my way even in that kind of position, I want to make sure I take it,” said Kakitani, who scored 11 goals last year. “I could see that a great ball was going to come as soon as Taka picked it up, and I had to make sure I just helped it on. I’m glad I carried on with my run.”
Quotable: “The goal was my fault. The quality of passing, crossing and shooting in J1 is completely different from J2.”
— Oita Trinita goalkeeper Kenta Tanno holds his hands up after gifting a winning goal to FC Tokyo in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat.