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Mrdja double carries Ardija past Reysol

by

Staff Writer

J. League second-division champions Omiya Ardija made it two wins out of two in their return to the top flight with a 2-0 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday.

Serbian striker Dragan Mrdja scored a quickfire early double to put Omiya, which opened the new season with a 1-0 away win over FC Tokyo last weekend, in control at Nack 5 Stadium before shutting out Reysol with a disciplined second-half performance.

Ardija captured the J2 title last year to clinch a return to the first division after only a season away, and manager Hiroki Shibuya was happy to repay the fans who had stuck with the club in its hour of need.

“This was our first home game back in J1, and we really wanted to deliver a win for the fans who supported us in J2 last year,” said Shibuya.

“In order to compete in J1, you need to make a strong start. The season is long in J2 but no one will wait for you in J1, so to start with two wins is great. But we have to keep improving. We have taken more from our first two games than just the results, and we’ll be using what we’ve learned from now on in training.”

The result gives Omiya two wins from its opening two J1 fixtures for the first time in club history, and striker Akihiro Ienaga is hoping to build on the achievement.

“First of all, the most important thing is to win, but these small records are good too,” said Ienaga. “If you keep winning, it breeds confidence. Hopefully we can keep this going and keep improving.”

Mrdja opened the scoring in the ninth minute but the Serbian owed a debt of gratitude to teammate Nejc Pecnik. Pecnik won a free kick on the edge of the box and took it himself, drilling a low shot through the defensive wall that Reysol goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura could only parry into Mrdja’s path.

“I talked to Mrdja before I took the free kick, and he told me if I was going to shoot, shoot hard and low,” said Slovenian winger Pecnik. “He started moving before I even hit it, and he got in there and finished it off.”

But Mrdja made his own luck for the second goal six minutes later, dancing into the box and jinking around a defender before lashing a shot past Nakamura from a tight angle.

“After I beat the man, there wasn’t really a pass on and I didn’t have many options, so I had to take the shot,” said Mrdja, who scored 19 goals in J2 last season.

“We attack as a team and we defend as a team. To be 2-0 ahead is a very difficult score to deal with, and as I expected, Kashiwa really started to come at us when they went two goals down. We had to be strong and defend together.”

Kashiwa manager Milton Mendes brought on Ryosuke Yamanaka for Hiroki Akino as early as the 22nd minute, and the substitute had an immediate impact with a series of dangerous raids down the left wing.

But Reysol failed to convert their superior possession into goals as Omiya goalkeeper Hitoshi Shiota denied substitute Junya Tanaka in the 62nd minute, before Yuki Otsu crashed a header over the bar with the best of the visitors’ chances.

“We didn’t get the luck today,” said Mendes, who is in his first season in charge of Kashiwa but has now overseen two opening losses. “We started well but then conceded, and then gave them an easy goal to fall further behind. We made lots of chances in the second half but we just couldn’t finish them off. That was the problem today.

“I believe in my players. This is a new team and we have to work hard and improve.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Kashima Antlers also made it two wins out of two after Mu Kanazaki’s 31st-minute goal clinched a 1-0 victory over Sagan Tosu.

Takayuki Morimoto scored in the 91st minute to salvage a remarkable 4-4 draw for Kawasaki Frontale against Shonan Bellmare, which also featured the record-tying 157th J1 goal of Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo’s career.

Okubo now sits alongside Masashi Nakayama and Hisato Sato as J1’s all-time top scorers, although Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Sato has the chance to break free when Sanfrecce face Nagoya Grampus on Sunday.

Vissel Kobe came through another high-scoring match with a 6-3 win over Albirex Niigata, while in the day’s late game, promoted Avispa Fukuoka, who came up through the playoffs, drew 1-1 with Yokohama F. Marinos.