Soccer / J. League

Frontale's Okubo notches brace in victory over FC Tokyo

Kyodo

Yoshito Okubo issued Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic a fresh reminder of his goalscoring prowess with a brace on Saturday, his J1 record-extending 160th and 161st career goals helping league-leading Kawasaki Frontale come from behind to win 4-2 at FC Tokyo.

Australian striker Nathan Burns marked his first league outing of the season with an early opener for Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium before Okubo got on the scoresheet for the third year in a row in the Tamagawa Classico at this venue to tie it up in the 11th minute.

Ryoichi Maeda put Tokyo back in front after the break but Okubo leveled from the penalty spot, and Yu Kobayashi made it 3-2 with nine minutes left before Elsinho wrapped up the win in stoppage time to preserve Frontale’s unbeaten start to the season.

The result put Frontale on 17 points from seven games, one clear of Urawa Reds, who whipped Vegalta Sendai 3-1 thanks to second-half goals from Tadanari Lee, Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto in Saitama.

“We are a little bit asleep at the start and conceded because of our own mistakes,” said Okubo. “But there was plenty of time after we fell behind and I thought we would be OK. We got better though and did well in the second half.”

Tokyo got off to a dream start and took the lead with less than four minutes gone. Sotan Tanabe won a challenge with Eduardo just inside his own half and Burns sprinted onto the loose ball and kept his head to steer past Frontale ‘keeper Jung Sung-ryong.

Halilhodzic earlier this week hinted that Okubo, who has not played for the national team since the 2014 World Cup, could be in line for a recall for the Kirin Cup in June.

And with the Franco-Bosnian coach watching from the stands, Okubo further boosted his chances of a comeback, controlling a long ball from Kengo Nakamura and, under pressure from Yuichi Maruyama and Ryoya Ogawa, slamming into the bottom left-hand corner.

“I don’t know (whether this has increased my chances of Japan recall) but I always want to get back in the team and in order to do that I have to continue doing better than other players, otherwise it will be difficult. I have to keep going,” Okubo told Kyodo News after the match.

“It is good that I scored two goals (in front of Halilhodzic), but I have had chances to do that before. Every game I want to keep scoring (and renew my record).”

Halilhodzic praised Okubo’s performance but was non-committal when asked whether he would rejoin the national team fold.

“He is a real goal-getter,” Halilhodzic said. “It’s a shame he (Okubo) is not a bit younger, although I don’t know yet (whether or not I will call him up).”

Burns looked a menace going forward, but dragged his shot wide on 23 minutes after a through ball from Maeda and Okubo nearly doubled his tally when he rattled the crossbar five minutes into the second half.

Kawasaki looked odds on to go in front moments later, but Kobayashi was unable to get a clean connection on the ball with the goal wide open.

That miss looked to prove costly as Tokyo regained the lead when Maeda volleyed home Maruyama’s free kick from close range in the 56th minute.

Burns then screwed wide from a great position and Okubo completed his brace on 77 minutes, winning a penalty and dusting himself off to smash past Yota Akimoto.

Kobayashi atoned for his earlier miss when he took a cross from Elsinho and fired home, before Elsinho headed in Nakamura’s cross to wrap up the scoring in the 92nd minute of this pulsating contest.

“I thought we were in trouble when we conceded (after I missed the open goal) and knew I had to get a goal back,” said Kobayashi. “If I had been a bit younger I probably would not want anyone to give me the ball after that. I was able to regroup mentally and I am glad my goal helped us get a good result.”

The game ended on a sour note for Okubo, though, as he ended up getting stretchered off the pitch following a booking in the dying seconds. He later said he took a knock behind his knee but that it was nothing serious.

The match was preceded by a moment’s silence held for the victims of the powerful earthquakes that have shaken the southern island of Kyushu since Thursday.

Saturday’s games between Avispa Fukuoka and Nagoya Grampus at Level-5 Stadium and Sagan Tosu and Vissel Kobe at Best Amenity Stadium were canceled due to the quakes.

Okubo, who is from Fukuoka Prefecture, said, “I have friends in Kumamoto (where the first quake struck on Thursday) and I have been able to contact them. All I can do is try and offer courage through soccer and try and help if it is needed.”

In other games, Omiya Ardija and Ventforet Kofu played out a 1-1 draw, while Mu Kanazaki set Kashima Antlers on the road to a 3-0 win at Shonan Bellmare. Former Japan defender Yuji Nakazawa was on target as Yokohama F. Marinos romped to a 5-1 win away to Jubilo Iwata.

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