• Kyodo


Former Japan international Mike Havenaar scored a late equalizer as Vissel Kobe earned a 1-1 draw at Sagan Tosu as the J. League kicked off its 26th season on Friday.

In the first weeknight opener in the league’s history, the hosts got off the mark in a hurry at Best Amenity Stadium, Kyosuke Tagawa burying a third-minute penalty after he collapsed dramatically in the penalty area to draw a foul.

From midfield, with the Vissel defense playing far forward, Sagan midfielder Hideto Takahashi’s long looping pass gave Tagawa a chance to battle defender Daisuke Nasu for a shot at goal. Nasu shoved Tagawa outside the penalty area, and after a few paces with virtually no contact, Tagawa stumbled to the turf.

Referee Yuichi Nishimura pointed to the spot, drawing heated protests from a trio of Vissel players before Tagawa struck home in the lower-right corner.

With the clock ticking, Vissel applied more and more pressure until it paid off in the 87th minute.

Getting the ball in the middle of a penalty-box crowd, Brazilian forward Wellington passed back to Havenaar, unmarked in the “D.” The 194-cm forward’s kick deflected off a defender, and flew just inside the post and out of the reach of keeper Shuichi Gonda.

“We didn’t get full points, so that is frustrating,” Havenaar said. “Still, we competed for the full game, and that paid dividends.

“It is just the first game of the season, and we obviously have many lessons to learn and things we need to get right.”

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