KYOTO — Gamba substitute forward Kota Yoshihara headed in the winning goal in the 89th minute, helping Osaka rally past Kyoto Purple Sanga 2-1 on Sunday at Nishikyogoku Stadium.

“Winning our season’s opening match is something special,” Gamba manager Akira Nishino said. “Kyoto is the Emperor’s Cup winner and has drawn a lot of attention in the Kansai area. I think beating them will help us get going in the season.”

Kyoto went ahead in the 17th minute, when Daisuke Nakaharai latched onto a header from Teruaki Kurobe to fire home from the right side of the box.

But Gamba’s new signing, Paraguay midfielder Francisco “Chiqui” Arce, celebrated his J. League debut in style when he curled in a free-kick in the 43rd minute to equalize for the visitors.

In the 65th minute Nishino sent on Yoshihara, as Gamba looked for the winner by playing with three forwards, and the gamble paid dividends when the 25-year-old substitute knocked in a header to seal the game in the last minute of normal time.

“As I was coming off the bench, I was fresher than the others and wanted to do something for us. I was desperate for a win,” said Yoshihara.

“We would have won the game if we had scored from the chances we created in the second half,” Kyoto manager Gert Engels said. “We didn’t play to defend. A draw might have been a fairer result. But this is just one of the 30 games in the season. We’ll get going to improve our game.”

Vegalta Sendai, who reeled off five wins at the start of last season, kicked off its second campaign in the top flight with a 1-0 victory over Division Two champion Oita Trinita in Sunday’s only other first-stage game.

Former Japan striker Yoshiteru Yamashita netted the only goal of the game at Sendai stadium in the 40th minute to seal all three points for the home side.

The next round of Division One games are scheduled for April 5.

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