YOKOHAMA – J. League
Frontale 3 Marinos 1
Kawasaki Frontale turned on the style to open the new J. League season with a 3-1 win over local rivals Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday.
New Brazilian signing Elsinho gave Frontale the lead after just three minutes in front of 38,123 at Nissan Stadium, only for Yuzo Kobayashi to pull Marinos level in the 16th minute.
Yu Kobayashi then restored Frontale’s advantage six minutes later after a mistake in the Yokohama defense, before last year’s league top scorer Yoshito Okubo set the seal on an impressive performance with a third goal midway through the second half.
The J. League was kicking off its return to a two-stage season having abandoned the single-league system it had used since 2005, and Frontale captain Kengo Nakamura was keen to stress the importance of starting with three points with the first-stage winner gaining entry to the championship playoffs.
“We’ve had it drilled into us that with the two-stage season, it’s important to make a good start,” said Nakamura. “We worked hard in camp, so it’s good to start with a good result.
“To win is good for our confidence. We still have to work at eliminating mistakes over the 90 minutes, but seeing as we were playing away from home and it was our first game of the season, this was a very good win. We’re determined to do well this year.”
Marinos were playing their first game under French manager Erick Mombaerts, who was chosen for the job by City Football Group after Manchester City’s owners bought a 20 percent stake in the J. League club last year.
“I have to congratulate Kawasaki because they deserved to win the match,” said Mombaerts, who comes to Marinos after a long career in French soccer, including stints in charge of France’s Under-21s, Paris Saint-Germain and Toulouse.
“Our problem was that we couldn’t win the ball back when we lost it. We weren’t aggressive enough to win the ball back. We wanted to string together more passes, but Frontale defended with a very high line and it was more effective to play long, high balls. Our problem was that our positioning and balance were not good, and that is something we have to work on.”
Frontale, who finished sixth last season, wasted no time in taking the game by the scruff of the neck as debutant Elsinho scored on the visitors’ first attack. Kobayashi burst into the Marinos box before sliding the ball across to the back post, and Elsinho rammed it home to get his Frontale career off to a flying start.
But after Marinos had regained composure, Kobayashi grabbed a 16th-minute equalizer in spectacular style. Yuji Nakazawa knocked a long ball into the box to find Kobayashi running into the space, and the right back controlled it with one touch before lashing it past goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe.
Kobayashi turned villain just minutes later, however, failing to cut out a ball across the box that his Frontale namesake pounced on to restore the visitors’ lead.
Kawasaki continued to threaten as the second half got under way with Nakamura pulling the strings in midfield, and the 34-year-old sliced Marinos’ defense open for Frontale’s third in the 72nd minute. Nakamura wriggled clear of his marker to deliver a close-range cross into the box, and Okubo angled his header into the roof of the net.
“This win is good for us as a team because it gives us confidence,” said Okubo, who scored 18 goals last season. “But we have to keep it going. This is only one game, and what we do from now on is what’s important.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, defending champions Gamba Osaka surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to FC Tokyo. Patric and Takashi Usami put Gamba ahead only for Japan forward Yoshinori Muto to score twice in the second half, the equalizer coming in injury time.
Matsumoto Yamaga were denied a win in their first-ever top-flight game as Nagoya Grampus fought back to claim a 3-3 draw, while fellow promoted side Montedio Yamagata lost 2-0 to Vegalta Sendai.
Sagan Tosu came from behind to beat Albirex Niigata 2-1, Sanfrecce Hiroshima saw off Ventforet Kofu 2-0, and a Masato Kudo goal gave Kashiwa Reysol a 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe.
Urawa Reds beat J2 champions Shonan Bellmare 3-1 in the day’s late game, while Kashima Antlers travel to Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday.