YOKOHAMA — Jubilo Iwata drew first blood in the race for the new J. League championship with a controversial 1-0 victory over Yokohama F. Marinos at Nissan Stadium on Saturday.
The match was heading for a goalless draw when Jubilo midfielder Takashi Fukunishi scored the winner in the 90th minute with what appeared to be a clear handball.
Hiroshi Nanami swung over a free kick from the right wing, and Fukunishi challenged for the ball with Marinos national team defender Yuji Nakazawa.
The ball struck Fukunishi’s hand and ended up in the net, and despite protests from the Marinos players the goal was allowed to stand by 1998 World Cup referee Masayoshi Okada.
The Japan Football Association’s chief referees inspector, Leslie Mottram, said after the match: “Fukunishi was looking one way and the ball hit his outstretched arm behind him.
“It was not intentional, so you cannot give handball.”
The goal gave Jubilo the perfect start to a long, 34-match campaign, and manager Masakuni Yamamoto was naturally upbeat after the final whistle.
“It means a lot to get three points on the opening weekend, and hopefully we can build on this and keep winning,” said the former Olympic team coach.
“We were a bit nervous, but I still thought we played all right.”
His opposite number, Marinos manager Takeshi Okada, said he thought the referee had made a mistake, but there was no point taking the matter further.
“I thought it was handball, but a goal is a goal and there is nothing you can do about it. Referees are only human, they can make mistakes, too.”
The goal produced a bitter finale to an open but scrappy contest in which an injury-hit Marinos team, seeking a third consecutive league title and fourth in all, deserved a draw.
There was opening day delight for Omiya Ardija, playing in J1 for the first time after finishing second in J2 last season.
Omiya won 2-0 at Gamba Osaka with late goals from former Tokyo Verdy striker Naoto Sakurai and Hiroshi Morita.
Sakurai, a former student at Omiya Higashi High School, joined his hometown team in the winter after helping Verdy win the Emperor’s Cup last season.
The three points were a big surprise for Omiya, coming against one of the title favorites.
Elsewhere Saturday, Kashima Antlers also made a perfect start by winning 1-0 away to Urawa Reds, last season’s runnerup.
In front of over 52,000 fans at the sun-baked Saitama Stadium 2002, the home side dominated the early exchanges but fell behind against the run of play on the half-hour mark.
National team playmaker Mitsuo Ogasawara, wearing the captain’s armband for Kashima, crossed from the left, and center forward Takayuki Suzuki got in front of his marker, Brazilian defender Nene, to send a header looping into the net. Reds ‘keeper Ryota Tsuzuki had left his line to try and gather Ogasawara’s delicately-flighted cross, but was left grasping at thin air as the Antlers striker beat him to the ball.
Tempers began to fray as the halftime whistle approached, and the officials struggled to keep control of the match.
When Urawa’s former Aston Villa defender, Alpay Ozalan, grabbed goalscorer Suzuki around the chin just before halftime, the Antlers forward fell to the turf and the Turkish international was shown the red card.
Reds manager Guido Buchwald sent on his two flyers, Tatsuya Tanaka and Masayuki Okano, during the second half, but the Antlers defense held firm to help Kashima take all three points.
The nearest Urawa came to scoring was in the 86th minute, when Emerson crossed from the left and Tanaka’s glancing header was well saved by Hitoshi Sogahata.
But the match was not a good advert for the J. League, as eight players were shown the yellow card, four from each side.
In another early kickoff, JEF United Chiba came back from the dead to scramble a 2-2 draw at Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Grampus led 2-0 thanks to a 40th-minute penalty from prolific Brazilian forward Ueslei and a 55th-minute header from defender Masahiro Koga, and seemed certain to collect all three points as the match entered the last 10 minutes.
But United battled back in typical fashion to score twice in the last few minutes. Midfielder Masataka Sakamoto pulled one back with a header with only six minutes to go, and striker Seiichiro Maki equalized with another header just before the whistle.
Verdy won 2-1 at Oita Trinita, with last week’s Xerox Super Cup hero Washington again on target for Ossie Ardiles’ team.
At Nihondaira Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture, Sanfrecce Hiroshima held Shimizu S-Pulse to a 1-1 draw.
Veteran playmaker Masaaki Sawanobori gave S-Pulse the lead after 67 minutes, but Hiroto Mogi equalized for Sanfrecce with 10 minutes remaining.
Lucas scored two goals in FC Tokyo’s 4-0 win over Albirex Niigata in Saturday’s late match.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.