YOKOHAMA - Substitute Yuma Suzuki scored an 83rd-minute winner as J. League champions Kashima Antlers maintained their dominance over Urawa Reds with a 3-2 victory in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup on Saturday.
Antlers beat Reds on away goals in last season’s championship final to win the title despite finishing 15 points behind first-place Urawa in the overall league table, and a quick-fire Yasushi Endo double late in the first half at Nissan Stadium looked set to continue that trend in the 2017 season curtain-raising match.
Reds pulled level in the second half with two goals within the space of a minute from Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto, but Suzuki tipped the balance back in Kashima’s favor when he picked dawdling defender Wataru Endo’s pocket to slot home the winner seven minutes from time.
“After the equalizer they came hard at us, but we got a slice of luck for our goal,” said Kashima manager Masatada Ishii, who led his team to a league and Emperor’s Cup double last season. “Winning this title can be a good springboard for the Asian Champions League and J. League games to come. This is a new team and winning this title is a good start for us.
“It will take a bit more time for the new players to gel but that will come as they play more games together. The players who have come in understood the team’s tactics quickly and I think this was a very good performance today.”
Kashima and Urawa will now be thrust headlong into the new season, with both teams playing midweek Asian Champions League games before starting their J. League campaigns on Saturday. Antlers play South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai at home on Tuesday, while Reds are away to Australia’s Western Sydney Wanderers.
“The manager stressed to us before the game that the players who weren’t even on the bench today will have to be able to come into the team and play,” said Kashima defender Gen Shoji.
“The next game is a different competition and so is the one after that, so we have to be able to adapt. Next we play against a team that isn’t Japanese and might have to change something to deal with that. We need to be smart about it.”
Both teams struggled to make inroads toward goal in the early stages of the match, with Urawa’s Yuki Abe even hitting a shot that went out for a throw-in.
That almost changed when Mu Kanazaki drilled a shot that Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa palmed against the post midway through the first half, but the warning went unheeded as Endo put Antlers in front in the 39th minute. Wataru Endo brought down Daigo Nishi on the edge of the box, and Kashima’s Endo stepped up to curl a perfect free kick over the Urawa wall and past the motionless Nishikawa.
Endo made it two with his second of the game just four minutes later. A fast break forward saw Kanazaki again hit the post, but Endo was on hand to slam home the rebound via Nishikawa’s fists.
Zlatan Ljubijankic missed a great opportunity to haul Urawa back into the match when he headed wide from close range in the 63rd minute, but a foul by Mitsuo Ogasawara on halftime substitute Koroki gave the Saitama side another chance from the penalty spot in the 74th minute.
Koroki beat new Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae to pull a goal back, and one minute later, Urawa grabbed an equalizer. Substitute Takahiro Sekine found Ljubijankic with a cross that the Slovenian smashed against the post, and Muto followed up to bury the rebound.
“The ball rebounded my way and I’m glad I was able to score from it,” said Muto. “This was the first official match of the year and I’m relieved that I was able to get a goal.”
But just as it looked as if Urawa might go on to snatch a winner, Suzuki settled the game for Kashima. Endo hesitated as he attempted to shepherd a pass back to Nishikawa, and Suzuki stole in front of him to poke the ball into the net.
“They didn’t water the pitch today so I knew that there would be a chance to get that ball,” said Suzuki.
The defeat left Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic with even more to chew on following last season’s championship final loss, but the Serb preferred to look on the bright side.
“At 2-2 it looked like we might go on to get the winner, but instead we ended up conceding,” he said.
“To come back from 2-0 down against a strong team that is good on the counterattack like Kashima is a positive for us to take from the game.”