SAITAMA – Yoichiro Kakitani celebrated his Japan call-up in style by scoring a first-half brace and creating a third in Cerezo Osaka’s comprehensive 3-0 victory over Omiya Ardija on Saturday.
In one of the hottest parts of the country on the hottest day of the year, Kakitani was a man on fire as he helped revive Cerezo’s J. League title hopes while denting those of fourth-place Omiya, which fell six points off the pace after suffering its fifth successive defeat.
Midway through the second half, Simplicio scored the third for fifth-place Cerezo, who remained nine points behind leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima on 42 points from 20 games.
The champions beat Jubilo Iwata 2-1 at home to keep a one-point lead over Yokohama F. Marinos, who edged Sagan Tosu by the same scoreline also at home.
“I didn’t play the way I did because I was picked,” said Kakitani, who is in Alberto Zaccheroni’s 23 for next week’s friendly against South American champions Uruguay at Miyagi Stadium.
“This is the way I always play for Cerezo, and I want to win the championship with the club. I’m just taking it one game at a time and the next one is for Japan.
“And as long as I’ve been picked, I want to represent Japan well.”
Cerezo manager Levir Culpi is a firm believer that Kakitani has what it takes to win a permanent place on Zaccheroni’s side bound for Brazil next year.
“For him to keep his place on the national team, he just needs to keep finishing at the rate he has been,” Culpi said. “Since the East Asian Cup, and to some degree in today’s match, he tends to disappear for parts of the game.
“But because his technique is nothing short of exceptional — he is in a league of his own there — he can change the game with one single play. It’s why he’s crucial to Cerezo, and he can be for Japan.”
Kakitani, Japanese soccer’s man of the hour following his performance at last month’s East Asian Cup, needed all of three minutes to push the visitors in front before a capacity crowd at Nack5 Stadium.
Takumi Minamino, who has been drawing raves of his own since his wonder goal against Manchester United last month, took the first stab from the edge of the box but had it blocked by the Omiya defense.
Ardija thought Cerezo forward Edno was offside on the play but the linesman begged to differ. Kakitani, always looking for an opportunity, was the first one to the loose ball and hit past goalkeeper Takashi Kitano to open the scoring.
The 23-year-old striker’s second was much like his first against South Korea at the East Asian Cup, striking with composure on the counterattack.
In the 26th minute, Kakitani split the defense with a well-timed run, before beautifully controlling a Simplicio long ball with his first touch.
Even with a defender on his back, Kakitani never pressed, coolly beating Kitano at top speed to silence the Omiya fans yet again.
Four minutes past the hour, Kakitani orchestrated Cerezo’s third with a left-wing cross for the far post, from where Edno headed back to Simplicio who was unmarked from point-blank range.
The former Roma midfielder nodded into the net with ease, putting the game out of reach for Ardija, who never looked capable of challenging Cerezo on this muggy evening.
“I happened to be in the right time at the right place on the first one,” said Kakitani, who is in the race for the golden boot with 12 goals this season, three behind FC Tokyo’s Kazuma Watanabe in the lead. “And for the second, I thought I got a little too close to the keeper but I’m glad I managed to put it away.”
Elsewhere in J1, third-place Urawa Reds were tripped up 2-0 away to Nagoya Grampus, who are picking up steam, having won five in a row.
Kashima Antlers lost 2-1 at Vegalta Sendai, while Kawasaki Frontale and Tokyo drew 2-2 at Todoroki. Last-place Trinita fought to a goalless draw with Kashiwa Reysol in Oita.
In a pair of early kickoffs, Dzenan Radoncic’s brace in the opening half sent Shimizu S-Pulse past Shonan Bellmare 3-1 at home while punching bags Ventforet and Albirex Niigata drew 1-1 in Kofu.