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IWATA, Shizuoka Pref. — Seeking the J. League’s first-ever title sweep, the first stage champion Jubilo Iwata got off to a good start by beating Vissel Kobe 1-0 with substitute forward Nobuo Kawaguchi netting the winner in the second half on Saturday night, the opening day of the Division One second stage.

Jubilo struggled to break through the Vissel defense and rarely threatened the visitors’ goal in the first half. Vissel, meanwhile, had two good scoring opportunities through forward Ryuji Bando, both following swift counter-attacks.

Iwata hadn’t won its first game in the second stage for four years, and many in the 14,253 crowd thought the jinx was to continue.

Things looked worse for Iwata as manager Masakazu Suzuki was forced to replace striker Naohiro Takahara (who injured a hamstring) with Kawaguchi at halftime. That put an end to Takahara’s scoring streak at seven games — one short to the league record of eight, set by Julio Salinas in 1997-98.

But the substitution worked wonders for Jubilo as Kawaguchi broke the 0-0 deadlock in the 68th minute. The speedy forward latched on to a through ball from Toshiya Fujita and rounded advancing Vissel ‘keeper Makoto Kakegawa to fire home from an angle.

Vissel, desperate for a win to move out of the relegation zone after finishing 13th in the first stage, introduced sent new mid-season signing forward Oseas of Brazil in the 79th minute but Kobe was unable to produce any goals and failed to snap its winless streak at Iwata that lasts back to 1997.

“I know we didn’t play so well today,” said Fujita. “But the win mattered and that will help us improve our game in the second stage.”

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