Kashima Antlers made a barnstorming start to the new J.League season with a 4-0 demolition of Ventforet Kofu on Saturday.
Davi gave Kashima the lead in the 11th minute before Yasushi Endo made it two midway through the first half, and Gen Shoji added another immediately after the interval before Davi wrapped up the scoring in injury time at National Stadium.
All four of Kashima’s goals came from set pieces, but manager Toninho Cerezo was in no mood to complain as he set his sights on steering the seven-time champions to their first league title since 2009.
“There’s nothing in the rules of football that says you have to score from open play,” said the Brazilian, who led Kashima to a fifth-place finish last season. “If you score from one 50 — or 70-meter pass and finish, it’s something to celebrate. If you could do that every time, you’d win every game easily, but football is not like that.
“Set pieces are something that you can get better at with practice, and I’m happy that we could show that today.”
Kashima began the match with five players age 21 or younger, marking something of a sea change for a club whose veterans played a major role in delivering three straight titles from 2007-09.
“For the future of our club, these players need to play,” said Cerezo. “Of course young players bring energy, but they also lack experience and that can show at times.
“I want them to show their strengths and gradually learn from their mistakes as they go along. If they can develop well, they can lead the club in the future.”
Davi gave Kashima the lead with the simplest of goals, heading home direct from a corner after Ventforet goalkeeper Hiroki Oka had slipped on the wet turf to leave the target wide open.
Nineteen-year-old Kashima debutant Yuto Toyokawa went close to adding another with a header in the 24th minute, but Antlers would not have to wait long before Endo doubled their lead, stabbing the ball over the line after a goalmouth scramble from a corner.
Shoji then notched the first goal of his professional career from a Mitsuo Ogasawara free kick to extinguish Ventforet’s hopes of a comeback, and it needed a sharp intervention from Oka to prevent a fourth when he rushed out of his box to deny Shoma Doi in the 76th minute.
Davi then managed to squeeze in another before the final whistle, connecting with another Ogasawara free kick in injury time to complete a miserable afternoon for Kofu.
“We’ve been preparing for this game for weeks and we really wanted to show what we could do, so this result is very disappointing,” said Ventforet manager Hiroshi Jofuku. “Kashima scored from their first and second corners and then 30 seconds into the second half, and when that happens, it’s no contest.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, Sagan Tosu beat promoted Tokushima Vortis 5-0 to give the Shikoku club a reality check on its first foray into the top flight, while substitute Roger Gaucho scored in the 89th minute to give Albirex Niigata a 2-1 victory over Vegalta Sendai.
Milivoje Novakovic bagged the winner as Shimizu S-Pulse came from behind to beat Nagoya Grampus 3-2, Kashiwa Reysol and FC Tokyo played out a 1-1 draw, while in the day’s late game, Tomoaki Makino scored in the 43rd minute to give Urawa Reds a 1-0 win over J2 champions Gamba Osaka.