HIRATSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. - The first match of the Reiwa Era for Shonan Bellmare and Nagoya Grampus did indeed feature “beautiful harmony” of a sort, with the two teams sharing a 1-1 result on Saturday after 90 minutes of spirited attacking on both ends at BMW Stadium.
A fast-moving storm lit up the skies east of the stadium with flashes of lightning beginning an hour before kickoff, dousing the sold-out crowd of 14,221 with occasional rain during the first half and giving the pitch an extra bit of speed.
The prolific Kosuke Taketomi nearly turned Mitsuki Saito’s cross into the opening goal in the 15th minute, but sent a close-range shot far over the crossbar to the relief of Grampus ‘keeper Mitch Langerak.
Nagoya responded with chances of its own, as Naoki Maeda tested Bellmare’s Yota Akimoto on several occasions.
The first half showcased the potential of both sides, but neither Nagoya’s high-powered attack nor Shonan’s pacy counterattack seemed able to change either of the zeroes on the scoreboard before the halftime whistle.
That changed late in the 44th minute when Grampus’ Joao Schmidt committed a dangerous tackle in the penalty area, with referee Yoshiro Imamura pointing to the spot despite impassioned protests from Langerak and Grampus captain Yuichi Maruyama. Ryogo Yamasaki stepped up and aimed slightly to the left, sending Langerak opposite and rocking the back of the net.
“I haven’t looked at the film yet but it didn’t feel like a penalty,” Schmidt said after the match.
Nagoya manager Yahiro Kazama took the halftime break to get his players back on the same page after what he described as a breakdown in communication, particularly on the back line.
“What the center backs were thinking and trying to do didn’t match up,” Kazama said. “If they’re falling out of sync our formation loses its axis … in the second half they communicated much better.”
Grampus found their first chance to net an equalizer just six minutes into the second half when Schmidt himself was the victim of a dangerous slide, this one committed by Shonan’s Keisuke Saka less than one meter outside the box. Schmidt did the honors and snuck under the wall with a low grounder, but his ball was subsequently cleared.
A 65th-minute free kick by Nagoya substitute Gabriel Xavier finally evened the score for the visitors, as the Brazilian Schmidt met the ball in midair for a header too powerful for Akimoto to parry out.
Just nine minutes earlier, Xavier had replaced Jo, the defending Golden Boot winner who has just four goals this season.
“Xavi’s crosses are very good,” Schmidt said. “Even with a defender marking me I was able to break free and meet the cross. It wouldn’t have been strange if we’d won, but a point away isn’t a bad result.”
With 13 minutes left, striker Shuhei Akasaki came close to giving Grampus their first lead of the game when his shot from distance ricocheted off the near post. Akimoto needed to spring into action two minutes later when a poor clearance gifted Xavier a clear shot at the edge of the box, and Nagoya again struck the post through Aria Jasuru Hasegawa in the 83rd minute.
Neither team was able to break the deadlock in the end, with Grampus remaining four points behind leader FC Tokyo and Bellmare holding onto 10th place at 14 points, three below the trio of Sanfrecce
Hiroshima, Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds.
“Comparing our first 10 matches this season to last season, the level our players are trying to reach has gone up,” Bellmare manager Cho Kwi-jea reflected. “There’s a true sense of what we’ve built, so with Levain Cup and league games continuing, and players going in and out for national team duty, we have to stay focused and connect what we felt today to the next game.”
Elsewhere, Vissel Kobe’s woes under recently appointed manager Takayuki Yoshida continued as the team failed to protect David Villa’s opener in a 2-1 defeat at Console Sapporo. Cerezo Osaka snapped a three-game winless streak in a 2-0 victory at Matsumoto Yamaga.
Goals by Ado Onaiwu and Kazuki Kozuka gave Oita Trinita fans a Kyushu Derby to remember, with Sagan Tosu on the wrong end of the 2-0 scoreline. The visitors were without manager Lluis Carreras, who was mysteriously left off the bench in favor of assistant coach Kim Myung-hwi.
Gamba Osaka and FC Tokyo battled out to a scoreless draw at Panasonic Stadium Suita, with the capital club retaining its unbeaten record.