KOBE - Former Germany striker Lukas Podolski marked his J. League debut in style with a superb brace to help Vissel Kobe beat struggling Omiya Ardija 3-1 on Saturday.
The World Cup-winning ex-Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Galatasaray star started to repay the estimated $5.3 million Kobe has invested in him on a two-and-a-half year deal, when he opened the scoring four minutes into the second half at Noevir Stadium.
Kazuma Watanabe had his shot charged down but the loose ball came back to Yoshiki Matsushita, who teed up Podolski to rifle into the bottom right-hand corner from 20 meters out.
Omiya pulled a goal back when Marcelo Toscano slotted home unmarked at the back post on the hour for his own debut goal, but Podolski restored Kobe’s lead two minutes later when he rose above two defenders to head home a pinpoint cross from Kotaro Omori.
Hideo Tanaka scored with a long-range effort to complete the win for Kobe with 12 minutes left.
“I can’t put into words how happy I am that I scored two goals and we won 3-1 in my first game,” said Podolski, the biggest name to arrive in the J. League since Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan played for Cerezo Osaka friom 2014-15.
“This is my first step and I want to keep moving forward,” added the Polish-born 32-year-old.
Ninth-place Kobe moved onto 29 points, 12 behind leaders Cerezo, who have played one more game.
Also Saturday, former England international Jay Bothroyd came off the bench to open his account for Consadole Sapporo in a 2-0 win over nine-man Urawa Reds.
Ken Tokura opened the scoring with a first-half header before Reds defender Tomoaki Makino was sent off in the 39th minute after clashing with the striker. The Reds then lost Daisuke Nasu to injury shortly after he had come on at the start of the second half and the team, having already made a maximum three substitutions, had to play the rest of the game with nine men.
New signing Bothroyd, who was with Jubilo Iwata the last two seasons, came on midway through the second half and made his mark with a header that sealed victory two minutes from time.
“Today of course I scored a goal but my teammates were amazing,” said the 35-year-old journeyman. “It’s an amazing atmosphere here, the fans have been great. They were our 12th man and this win is dedicated to them.”
Sapporo manager Shuhei Yomoda praised Bothroyd and Thai international Chanathip Songkrasin, who became the first player from his country to play in J1 before making way for Bothroyd in the 63rd minute.
“Both of them showed their strengths. I think they will get better and as a team we will improve,” said Yomoda, whose team is just above the relegation zone but has now taken seven points from its last three matches.
Sapporo took the lead after 32 minutes as Tokura outmuscled Makino to head home Akito Fukumori’s corner, and Urawa suffered a further blow when Makino was sent off.
Makino appeared to kick Tokura while he was down after the pair had tangled and referee Ryuji Sato handed Makino a straight red card for violent conduct while Tokura was booked.
Despite being two men down, the Reds looked lively in the second half and substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic headed Tomoya Ugajin’s cross against the right-hand post in the 54th minute.
But despite bravely battling on, Urawa lights were put out when Bothroyd headed in a cross from veteran midfielder Shinji Ono at the far post.
In other games, Gamba Osaka claimed local bragging rights with a 3-1 victory over Cerezo, Ademilson sealing victory in the 86th minute, while Mu Kanazaki put the Kashima Antlers on the way to a 3-0 win at home to Ventforet Kofu.
Hayao Kawabe scored twice as Jubilo Iwata hammered Kawasaki Frontale 5-2 away and Chong Tese hit a 70th-minute equalizer as Shimizu S-Pulse twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Yokohama F. Marinos.