HIROSHIMA – Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Asian Champions League title aspirations took an early hit as the J. League champions went down 2-1 at home to China’s Shandong Luneng in their opening Group F. match on Tuesday.
Hiroshima took the lead midway through the second half at Edion Stadium, thanks to a blistering effort from Kohei Shimizu, but Shandong leveled moments later through Yang Xu. Diego Tardelli then snatched victory for the visitors 12 minutes from time.
It was a bad night all around for Japanese clubs as playoff qualifier FC Tokyo went down 2-1 away to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in Group E.
Looking to build on Saturday’s 3-1 Fuji Xerox Super Cup win over Gamba Osaka, during which star striker Hisato Sato scored but picked up a hamstring injury and missed the match against Shandong as a result, Hiroshima enjoyed plenty of possession and went close to breaking the deadlock on the stroke of halftime.
After seeing a dipping shot hit the side netting, new loan signing Peter Utaka set up Takuma Asano with a clever pass, but the Japan Under-23 international’s lofted shot was hacked behind by defender Dai Lin.
Hiroshima had the ball in the net from the resulting corner, but the goal was disallowed for a foul on goalkeeper Wang Dalei by Yusuke Minagawa.
Utaka, who came off the bench to score in his debut on Saturday, continued to look lively in his first start and picked out Yoshifumi Kashiwa, whose deflected shot fizzed over the cross bar on the hour mark.
But Hiroshima made the breakthrough three minutes later. Minagawa got his head on Tsukasa Shiotani’s cross from the right and the loose ball fell to Shimizu, who took the ball on his chest and made no mistake with a rasping drive into the right-hand corner of the net.
Hiroshima’s joy did not last long, though, as Yang got in between Utaka and Shiotani to head in a corner and put Shandong level on 67 minutes.
Shandong then went in front as substitute Wu Xinghan mugged Hiroki Mizumoto after a weaving run and cut the ball back to provide Tardelli with a simple finish.
Hiroshima pushed for an equalizer but Wang came up with two superb saves in the dying moments to preserve his side’s lead.
“We didn’t have any power,” said Hiroshima midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama, the 2015 J.League Player of the Year. “It’s difficult right now (to pinpoint where it all went wrong) but we all have to take a good look at ourselves.
“However this is just one game and we don’t have time to let our heads drop. We just have to do what we have to do ahead of the next match.”
Hiroshima failed to make it out of the group stage in its first two ACL appearances in 2010 and 2013. Hajime Moriyasu’s side advanced to the second round in 2014, when it was knocked out on away goals by eventual champions Western Sydney Wanderers.
In Wednesday’s matches involving Japanese clubs, last year’s semifinalists and 2008 champions Gamba are away to South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings while 2007 champions Urawa Reds are at home to Sydney FC.
The top-two teams from eight four-team groups, spilt between East and West Asia, advance to the knockout stage.