Sterjovski brace carries Central Coast Mariners past Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Kyodo

Two-time defending J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima were sunk by a first-half double from Mile Sterjovski and lost 2-1 away to Australia’s Central Coast Mariners in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday night.

It was a bad night for Japanese clubs as Cerezo Osaka were beaten 3-1 at home to China’s Shandong Luneng in Group E.

Hiroshima came into the match unbeaten in four matches in all competitions so far this season and it took the lead in the 21st minute through a header from Tsukasa Shiotani.

But Sterjovski hit back soon after the restart and then capitalized on sloppy defending by Kazuhiko Chiba to grab the winner just after the half-hour mark as Mariners rebounded from last week’s defeat to FC Seoul.

Hiroshima has one point from two ACL games after its opening 1-1 draw at home to Beijing Guoan. Cerezo also drew 1-1 away to South Korea’s Pohang Steelers in their first game last week.

Yojiro Takahagi nearly gave Hiroshima the lead with what would have been one of the goals of the tournament, almost catching Mariners’ ‘keeper Liam Reddy off guard by trying his luck with a first-time effort from the halfway line.

Reddy made the save but Hiroshima went in front from the resultant corner, Shiotani scoring with a header that really ought to have been cleared off the line by Mariners defender Kim Seung-yong.

Kim quickly made amends when he set up Sterjovski for this first goal of the night with a neat through pass, and Sterjovski made it 2-1 in the 32nd minute, picking up a poor clearance from Chiba and smashing a deflected shot into the top corner.

“We expected a tough game and it is disappointing that we lost,” said Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu. “The goals that we conceded were down to our mistakes. We didn’t close our opponents down quick enough.”

Although Hiroshima has dominated domestically over the past two seasons, it has not been able to replicate that success on the continental stage and was eliminated in the group stage of last year’s ACL without picking up a single win.

After losing its first three matches against Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan, Beijing and South Korean side Pohang Steelers, Hiroshima was left with too much ground to make up and could only manage three draws in their final fixtures to finish bottom of Group G.

At Nagai Stadium, Aloisio opened the scoring for Shandong and Vagner Love added a brace before Japan striker Yoichiro Kakitani pulled back a late consolation for Cerezo.

On Wednesday, Yokohama F. Marinos host reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande of China in Group G and Kawasaki Frontale, the only J.League club to win so far, are away to South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai in Group H.