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FC Tokyo’s Okubo provides final goal in dramatic triumph over former club Frontale

by

Staff Writer

Yoshito Okubo scored against his former club as FC Tokyo lit the touch paper late in the second half to beat Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 on Saturday night.

All eyes were on Okubo at Ajinomoto Stadium as the striker made his first appearance against Frontale since leaving the club where he topped the J. League’s scoring charts for three straight years before joining Tokyo in the offseason.

Fellow strikers Takuma Abe and Peter Utaka looked to have stolen Okubo’s thunder when Abe forced a 75th-minute own goal by Frontale goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong and Utaka added a second in the 86th minute to send Tokyo toward its third win in four games.

But Okubo would not be outdone and notched his first goal for his new club in the 92nd minute, playing a one-two with Utaka before slotting the ball past Jung and leading a wild celebration with the jubilant Tokyo fans.

“Everyone was asking when I would score my first goal but that just makes you panic,” said Okubo, the J. League’s all-time leading scorer with 172 goals. “I knew it would come but you’re still on edge until it does. But then I scored and I’m glad I could do it in front of the fans.

“Sung-ryong knows what I’m like as a player so I panicked a little when he came out of his goal toward me. I’ve seen what he’s like in training. But I was able to keep my cool and I’m glad I could finish off the chance.”

Utaka came off the bench in the 62nd minute to make his league debut for Tokyo after joining from Sanfrecce Hiroshima earlier this month, and the Nigerian easily dispatched a cross from Kosuke Ota to put the home team two goals up.

“It was a fantastic cross from Ota,” said Utaka, who finished as the J. League’s joint-top scorer last season with 19 goals. “You cannot miss from there.

“We have a big squad and everybody can play. Our team is getting stronger and stronger, week in, week out, so we hope we don’t get any injuries so that we can keep going strong like this.”

Okubo picked Kengo Nakamura’s pocket in midfield in the 21st minute and looked to be clean through on goal until the referee blew for a foul on the Frontale captain. The officials then thwarted Okubo again six minutes later, this time after the striker had put the ball in the back of the net from an offside position.

For all Okubo’s threat up front, however, it was Frontale who created the best first-half chances. Nakamura caused havoc with a corner into the Tokyo box that was somehow scrambled away in the second minute, and Hiroyuki Abe stung goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi’s fists with a fierce shot later in the half.

Both teams continued to attack in the second half but it was Tokyo that broke the deadlock. Abe darted into the Frontale box after receiving a pass from Okubo, then played in a ball that Jung turned into his own net with the inside of his leg.

“I don’t know whether it was a cross or a shot but I just knew that I had to play the ball into the box,” said Abe.

Utaka and Okubo then added two more to set the seal on Tokyo’s win, consigning Frontale to their first defeat of the season.

“We didn’t start the game badly but we didn’t move the ball very well and our pace started to drop,” said Frontale manager Toru Oniki, who led his team to a 1-1 away draw with Guangzhou Evergrande in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday. “We went into the second half feeling good, but we fell apart after they scored the first goal.

“I said I didn’t want to use our physical condition as an excuse but I think it did have an effect on the players. They tried their best but I don’t think we were at our best today.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Kotaro Omori scored as Vissel Kobe beat Jubilo Iwata 1-0 to make it four wins out of four, while defending champions Kashima Antlers came from two goals down to beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-2.

Vegalta Sendai kept up their impressive start to the season with a 1-0 win over Kashiwa Reysol, promoted Consadole Sapporo picked up their first victory of the campaign, 2-1 over Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and Yokohama F. Marinos and Albirex Niigata drew 1-1.

Kazuya Yamamura made the difference as Cerezo Osaka beat Sagan Tosu 1-0, and Ventforet Kofu topped Omiya Ardija 1-0 to leave Ardija with zero points from their first four games.

Gamba Osaka host Urawa Reds in Sunday’s only game.