SAITAMA - A goal by Leandro Damiao was enough for defending J. League champion Kawasaki Frontale to triumph 1-0 over 2018 Emperor’s Cup winner Urawa Reds on Saturday at the Fuji Xerox Super Cup.
Played in front of a sold-out Saitama Stadium crowd in unseasonably mild February weather, the match had a celebratory atmosphere but little in the way of highlights in a one-sided affair largely dominated by Frontale, which outshot the Reds 12 to one.
“We weren’t able to play well today. Frontale played an incredibly good match and deserved to win,” said Urawa manager Oswaldo Oliveira. “I know our players and I’m confident that they can play better than they did today.”
It was a satisfying result for Kawasaki boss Toru Oniki, who watched last year’s Super Cup from the wrong side of a 3-2 defeat to Cerezo Osaka.
“We approached this like a (tournament) championship and were focused on winning, and we persevered until the end because the players worked hard,” Oniki said. “We tried to play our style from the beginning by connecting the ball. We could have done a little better in terms of our finishing, but we were able to control the match.”
With both teams retaining most of their starters from last season, it was a chance for new arrivals to show off their potential ahead of a long season, which will include the domestic league and cups as well as the AFC Champions League.
Of those it was Frontale signing Damiao who impressed the most with his frequent sprints and physical play. The top scorer at the London Olympics received his first yellow card in Japan for a foul on Reds defender Mauricio in the 27th minute.
Damiao’s diving 38th-minute header, perhaps the most impressive of several Kawasaki chances in the first half, was called offside. But his left-footed effort off a 52nd-minute rebound was most definitely onside when it ripped into the back of the net, much to the delight of thousands of blue-clad supporters behind the goal who cheered his “Dragon Ball” inspired celebration with team captain Yu Kobayashi.
“I had discussed (the celebration) with Yu this week and I’m glad we were able to pull it off,” the Brazilian said. “Our supporters are great. Just like in Brazil they’re the ’12th man’ and I want to celebrate together with them.”
The one-time Brazil international, who cited the quality of his teammates as having made it easier to adjust to Frontale since arriving on loan from Brazilian club Santos this winter, earned the stamp of approval from his manager through his 79 minutes of play.
“Damiao has worked hard to make himself fit for the team from the start of training camp,” said Oniki. “He showed the ability to maintain possession and drive toward the goal and I think he’ll continue to improve.”
Urawa’s newcomers had less-than-impressive outings, however, with both midfielder Ewerton and striker Kenyu Sugimoto replaced at halftime.
“Our new players couldn’t do everything immediately. It’s like replacing parts in a car and expecting everything to work immediately,” Oliveira said. “The players need time to adjust, but I’m confident they will improve.”
Neither team will have much time to reflect on Saturday’s result, with Kawasaki beginning its title defense at home against FC Tokyo and Urawa traveling north to face Vegalta Sendai when the J. League’s first division kicks off next weekend.