KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. - Two-time defending champion Kashima Antlers got off on the wrong foot in their quest for a third straight Nabisco Cup title as Toninho Cerezo’s men lost 4-2 to FC Tokyo on Saturday.
Ex-Southampton striker Tadanari Lee was the man of the hour, scoring his first goal in Tokyo colors and setting up Keigo Higashi’s stylish volley that finished off the five-time winners of the league cup.
Kazuma Watanabe and Lucas added to Tokyo’s tally while the strike force of Yuya Osako and Davi netted for Antlers, who fielded an inexperienced team for the Group B affair.
Lee was thrilled to have scored for the club he played for at the youth level before transferring to Kashiwa Reysol to make his professional debut in 2005.
“Incredible,” the Japanese international said. “FC Tokyo brought me up as a kid so to be able to pay them back in this way means a lot to me.”
“I signed with the club so I could get back into the national team. I need to make my place in the first team permanent and keep scoring. I need to show I deserve to play for Japan again.”
Cerezo suffered his first defeat of the season, and the former star midfielder for Brazil rang alarm bells about the year ahead of him and his team.
“I think today proved that we need foreign signings,” Cerezo said. “Whether they will be Asians or come from other regions remains to be seen.”
“I’m not even sure we can afford them, but I have put in my request because it’s necessary. If we don’t get them, we could be in for a long season.”
“We had a good first half but credit FC Tokyo for turning things around in the second half. Had we capitalized on the chances we had before halftime, it could have been a totally different story today.”
The two sides traded shot for shot in the shivering cold at Kashima Stadium before Osako opened the scoring in the 28th minute with a tough angular strike just off the right by-line.
Antlers thought they would have the lead heading into the tunnel but Tokyo leveled in the nick of time, Watanabe redirecting a Yuhei Tokunaga effort into the net in the first minute of stoppage time.
The second half was more of the same with plenty of shots going around for both teams.
In the 51st minute, Lee called Kashima custodian Akihiro Sato into action with a blast from the heart of the area, an opportunity the Asian Cup winner knew he should have put away.
Tokyo created again six minutes later and this time, veteran Lucas made sure to capitalize as the 34-year-old Brazilian spotted the ball into the bottom corner.
Lee eventually got his goal in the 77th minute, putting the visitors up 3-1 with a diving header. Kashima closed the gap a minute later through Davi, who found the net amid traffic inside the box.
Yet Tokyo reestablished its two-goal advantage nine minutes to time as former Omiya Ardija playmaker Higashi struck his first goal for Ranko Popovic’s side.
In other league cup games, Yokohama F. Marinos made it 5-for-5 in 2013 as Yasuhiro Higuchi’s side won 2-0 away to Ventforet Kofu in Group A.
Shingo Hyodo and Kosuke Nakamachi struck on either side of halftime for Marinos, who will try to make it six in a row in all competitions next weekend at home against Tokyo in the J.League.
Also in the group, Omiya Ardija beat Shonan Bellmare 3-1 away.
Cerezo Osaka, who like Marinos have three wins out of three in the league, also remained unbeaten on the year after defeating Trinita 2-1 in Oita in Group B — their fourth victory in five games.
Ryohei Yamazaki bagged a second-half hat trick as Jubilo Iwata hammered Shimizu S-Pulse 5-1 at home in the Shizuoka derby, and Nagoya Grampus edged Sagan 2-1 at Tosu in another Group B contest.