OSAKA – Tsukasa Shiotani stole Diego Forlan’s thunder with a second-half winner as Sanfrecce Hiroshima launched their bid for a third straight J. League title with a 1-0 victory away to Cerezo Osaka on Saturday.
Shiotani buried his shot in the 71st minute to give Hiroshima the victory after good work from Naoki Ishihara, while promoted Tokushima Vortis were given a harsh introduction to life in the top flight with a 5-0 defeat away to Sagan Tosu.
“This game is one out of 34 in the season but the opening game is important,” said Hiroshima manager Hajime Moriyasu. “More than the performance it was about getting a result today, and I am glad we could get a win away in this kind of atmosphere.”
With both Hiroshima and Cerezo coming off midweek 1-1 draws in the Asian Champions League, the match began at a pedestrian pace in wet conditions at Yanmar Stadium, but Cerezo’s marquee signing Forlan had a half chance midway through the first half.
Making his first start after making his debut off the bench in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw away to South Korea’s Pohang Steelers in the ACL, the Uruguayan hitman took a return pass from strike partner Yoichiro Kakitani, but his effort from distance in the 27th minute sailed harmlessly over the cross bar.
Takumi Minamino went close to breaking the deadlock nine minutes into the second half, but had his deflected shot pushed away by Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi.
Despite some flowing approach play, Cerezo lacked a cutting edge in the final third, and Forlan shot straight at Hayashi after his free kick came back off the Hiroshima wall.
At the other end, Kim Jin-hyeon got down to cut out a dangerous cross from Takuma Asano but the Cerezo ‘keeper could do little as Hiroshima took the lead moments later.
Ishihara somehow managed to outfox three defenders and cut the ball back for defender Shiotani to rifle a left-footed volley into the corner of the net.
“It’s a great start,” said Hiroshima captain Toshihiro Aoyama. “We have got injuries, but I think we were able to show what we are made of. We weren’t thinking too much about keeping those two (Kakitani and Forlan) quiet but we didn’t let our opponents play to their strengths and managed to keep our focus.”
Forlan was substituted with nine minutes left, making way for Kenyu Sugimoto.
“It was their (Forlan and Kakitani’s) first time starting together so you can’t expect too much,” said Cerezo boss Ranko Popovic. “Yoichiro had stomach problems and it was touch and go whether he could play, but I think he did a solid job. It is not just about Diego and Yoichiro, we want goals as a team and that is something we need to look at and fix.
“The game panned out pretty much the way I expected it to. One of Hiroshima’s strengths is that they don’t let mistakes go unpunished and that is how they scored and turned us over,” added Popovic. “I thought we controlled the game. We had our chances at 0-0 and never took them and this is the result.”