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Brazilian striker Emerson struck a superb equalizer as an under-strength Urawa Reds held defending champion Yokohama F. Marinos to a 1-1 draw on the opening day of action in the J. League on Saturday.

News photoUrawa reds forward Emerson (third from left) battles Yokohama F. Marinos defender
Naoki Matsuda during their J. League season opener on Saturday at International Stadium
Yokohama. The match ended in a 1-1 draw.

South Korea striker Ahn Jung Hwan opened his league account for his new club by giving Yokohama the lead in the 29th minute before 2003 J. League Player of the Year Emerson grabbed a deserved point for the visitors in front of over 51,000 at International Stadium Yokohama.

Turkish World Cup striker Ilhan Mansiz, however, was unable to find the target on his much-anticipated league debut for Vissel Kobe but two second-half goals from Kunie Kitamoto and substitute Mitsutoshi Watada secured a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over JEF United Ichihara.

In Saturday’s evening game, last year’s runnerup Jubilo Iwata kicked off its 2004 campaign with a 2-0 win over Tokyo Verdy, Japan midfielder Toshiya Fujita scoring a header in each half.

Verdy striker Takayuki Morimoto, who has only just graduated from junior high school, became the youngest player to appear in a J. League match when he came off the bench at Yamaha Stadium to make his debut at 15 years, 10 months and six days.

In an early kickoff, Yokohama went ahead when Ahn cut inside from the left and unleashed a fierce shot from the edge of the box that beat Ryota Tsuzuki at his near post.

Yokohama failed to clear an Alessandro Santos throw from the right and the ball fell to Emerson, who hit a looping shot into the left-hand corner of the net.

Elsewhere, four-time champion Kashima Antlers needed a last-gasp equalizer from debutant Toru Araiba to draw 1-1 at home to Gamba Osaka while Makoto Kakuda also scored his first league goal in a Nagoya Grampus Eight shirt as manager Nelsinho made a winning start to his reign with a 2-1 victory at Cerezo Osaka. Last year’s league top scorer Ueslei grabbed the winner.

In Chiba Prefecture, Keiji Tamada scored the winner as Kashiwa Reysol defeated Oita Trinita 2-1 at home while FC Tokyo edged newly-promoted Albirex Niigata 1-0 courtesy of a 26th-minute goal from Yoshiro Abe.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima, back in the top flight after a season in the second division, drew 1-1 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse.

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