Sanfrecce start defense with loss



J. League

Frontale 1 Sanfrecce 0

Yu Kobayashi stole the show from Hisato Sato and Yoshito Okubo as champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima went down 1-0 at the hands of Kawasaki Frontale in their J. League season opener on Saturday.

With a stalemate looming on the horizon, Kobayashi broke the deadlock in the 84th minute to sink Sanfrecce, who also lost midweek in the Asian Champions League after lifting the Fuji Xerox Super Cup last weekend.

“Yoshihiro (Nakano) did a great job of breaking them down. I just focused on trying to make contact with the ball,” Kobayashi said. “I managed to score at a good time, against a team that doesn’t concede easily. I’m confident that if I stay fit, I can come up with the goals this season. We have to prove we can keep up with the best teams in the league.”

All eyes were on two of the most prolific goalscorers in league history in Hiroshima’s Sato and Kawasaki’s Okubo, who went into the match on the cusp of breaking the Japanese all-time scoring record held by Masashi Nakayama.

Sato is level with Nakayama with 157 career goals, Okubo 156. Both tried to deflect the attention away from their chase of the record and onto the performance of their teams.

“Kawasaki played the same way they always play. They didn’t do anything differently for us,” Sato said. “We had the opportunities to win in the ACL and the same goes for today.

“It’s easy to understand why we lost today. We just made far too many mistakes than we normally do, plain and simple.”

Said Okubo, “Hiroshima don’t let you beat them too often, so it was good to win 1-0. But you can’t let up just because you win the opening match. What matters is how you do from hereon.” “I’m not worried about not scoring today. The goals will come.”

With Nakayama in the stands at Edion Stadium and no thanks to the hype the league tried to generate, both Sato and Okubo put themselves under enormous pressure, looking uptight throughout the contest.

While Okubo at least had a couple of half-chances, Sato, who needs one goal to surpass Nakayama, didn’t even get a look, taking a seat on the bench after 68 minutes.

The game actually began to open up after Sato was substituted with his lightning-quick replacement, Takuma Asano, prying open the defense.

Unfortunately for the Hiroshima faithful, who turned out despite the cold and the rain, the deciding goal was produced at the other end of the pitch when substitute Yoshihiro Nakano set up Kobayashi, who opened his season account with his left foot.

“We weren’t our usual selves,” Sato said. “Whether it’s down to them or us or some other reason, that’s something we have to look into.”

Elsewhere on opening weekend in J1, Nagoya Grampus handed rookie manager Takafumi Ogura his first win with new signing Robin Simovic netting his first goal in Japan in a 1-0 victory at Jubilo Iwata.

Urawa Reds followed up their midweek ACL win by defeating Kashiwa Reysol 2-1 away, while Albirex Niigata won 2-1 at Shonan Bellmare. Cristiano marked his return to Kofu with a brace in Ventforet’s 2-0 victory over Vissel in Kobe.

Last season’s J2 champions Omiya Ardija won 1-0 at FC Tokyo, and Vegalta dealt Yokohama F. Marinos a 1-0 defeat at Nissan Stadium, where Sendai has not lost since 2003.

Sagan Tosu extended a rude welcome back to the top flight for Avispa, beating Fukuoka 2-1 at home.