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Strong start sees new-look Vissel avoid past mistakes

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Past disappointments may have persuaded Vissel Kobe fans to temper their expectations when the club unveiled its latest signings over the offseason, but Saturday’s table-topping win over Kashima Antlers has surely prompted a rethink.

Vissel beat Antlers 3-2 to jump into first place above defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima, twice coming from behind before Keijiro Ogawa notched a 69th-minute winner. The result means Vissel have now won four games in a row, but the outlook for the newly promoted side at the start of the season was anything but clear-cut.

Vissel prepared for their first top-flight campaign after a year’s absence by signing Brazilian trio Marquinhos, Pedro Junior and Fabio Simplicio — all established J. League heavy-hitters with price tags to match. But if that ambitious strategy would be enough to satisfy most fans, Vissel’s supporters had seen it all before.

A 2012 campaign that saw the arrival of several internationals and title-winners including Masahiko Inoha and Takuya Nozawa ended in relegation, with Vissel changing manager no fewer than three times along the way.

“The team wasn’t united,” former Vissel striker Yoshito Okubo told The Japan Times the following season. “Everyone had their own separate ideas and objectives, and that meant everything fell apart on the pitch.”

Might the 2014 version be any different? The early signs certainly suggest so.

Marquinhos and Pedro Junior have shown their worth with five goals each, while Simplicio has brought all the midfield authority of a man who spent eight years in Italy’s Serie A, as well as two goals of his own.

But are Vissel too reliant on their new Brazilian stars? Having seen his side beat Antlers without Pedro Junior and Simplicio on Saturday, manager Ryo Adachi thinks not.

“You could look at today’s result and say that we didn’t miss them, but those two players have been crucial to our early form,” he said. “But the players who came in to replace them, Ogawa and (Hideo) Hashimoto, are players who have proven their quality and I wasn’t worried about them.

“I was very happy with the way they played and I would have to say that missing those two players didn’t affect us.”

So far, so good for Vissel.

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Albirex Niigata are fast becoming one of the J. League’s toughest teams to beat, but manager Masaaki Yanagishita is anything but happy.

Albirex drew 0-0 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Sunday to maintain their record as the league’s stingiest defense with only five goals conceded and one defeat, but if that suggests the players are all on the same page, Yanagishita sees things differently.

“That was our worst game,” he said. “When I say worst, I mean there were far too many players looking to be the hero. I didn’t make my team to be like that.

“In training I tell them to look for teammates who are in good positions and pass the ball to them, but it wasn’t like that today. We have to start again from scratch.”

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Gamba Osaka defender Yasuyuki Konno certainly made an eventful cameo appearance in his side’s 2-1 win over Omiya Ardija on Saturday.

One week after leaving Gamba’s game against Cerezo Osaka in the first half with a knee injury, Konno came off the bench against Ardija in the 84th minute, saw his team concede three minutes later, then bagged the winner himself one minute later to claim three precious points for the struggling Kansai side.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m the hero,” said Konno. “We conceded a goal after I came on, and we were in a real critical moment.

“If it had finished 1-1 like that, I think I would have died. I think I would have wanted to just drop down dead right there and then.”

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Quotable: “The supporters were showing their true feelings.”

— New Vegalta Sendai manager Susumu Watanabe faces up to the boos after his team’s 3-0 home defeat to Sagan Tosu on Saturday.