KASHIWA, Chiba Pref. – With the wind at their backs and a dynamic goal-scoring duo in front, Kashiwa Reysol started the season exactly how they wanted — with a win.
The J. League’s first division returned to Sankyo Frontier Stadium in fine form on Saturday as Reysol rode braces from Ataru Esaka and Michael Olunga to a 4-2 victory over Consadole Sapporo.
It was a long-awaited return to the J1 for Reysol, who romped through last year’s second division after their stunning 2018 relegation. Commanding the hosts from the bench was Nelsinho Baptista, the Brazilian whose first tenure with Reysol from 2009 to 2014 saw the club win all four domestic trophies including its first and only J. League title in 2011.
“After the club was relegated in 2018, we fought for a year to get back in the J1,” Nelsinho said. “We built a very strong squad with the anticipation of playing in J1.”
The strong wind kept the flags above the home end waving from whistle to whistle, an advantage Reysol used as they attacked toward the boisterous yellow wall of home support in the first half.
“Rain might not affect us if the pitch isn’t slippery but that much wind will affect us,” Consadole manager Mihailo Petrovic said. “Reysol’s tactics involve a lot of side changes, and they were able to use the wind to their advantage.”
Esaka took just 13 minutes to score his opener after receiving Olunga’s cross and dribbling a meter inside the penalty area before directing his low shot inside the near post.
Olunga, who became a viral sensation in November when he scored eight goals against Kyoto Sanga on the season’s last day, opened his 2020 account in the 20th minute when he received a deep ball and drew Sapporo goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun toward the edge of the Consadole box before eventually slotting home.
Consadole striker Jay Bothroyd was a hard man to miss in the box during the first half, but the one-time England international was stymied at every turn by Reysol goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu.
“Today’s result game down to finishing — Reysol took advantage of their chances and their goalkeeper did a good job of stopping ours,” Petrovic said.
Olunga played a part in the team’s third goal with a cross to Cristiano, whose through pass found Esaka behind a pair of Consadole defenders in the area, leaving the No. 10 with little more to do than aim for the back of the net shortly before the hour mark.
“We were able to create a lot of good chances on short counters,” Nelsinho said. “Before the second half I told the players they were giving too much space to Consadole’s build-up … and they responded to that in the second half.
The Kenya international’s second goal came just five minutes later when he again drew Gu out of the area following Cristiano’s setup pass and easily made it 4-0.
The visitors showed some life in the 68th minute when Takuma Arano pounced on a loose ball to end Reysol’s clean sheet and Musashi Suzuki’s impressive solo run narrowed the deficit to two goals with 15 minutes remaining.
But Reysol managed to hold on even after Kim appeared to pick up an injury and was replaced by backup netminder Haruhiko Takimoto.
“(Kim) asked to be taken out, but based on what I’ve heard I think he’ll be able to play in the second round,” Nelsinho said.
The result was less than ideal for Consadole, which came into the season hoping to improve on last year’s mid-table finish and earn a long-desired spot in the Asian Champions League.
“We had a long preseason, but we can’t know where we’re at as a team until the season starts,” Petrovic said. “We lost but looking back on the match we didn’t play poorly.”
In other results on Saturday, Simao Mate scored early for Vegalta Sendai but Hiroyuki Abe responded for Nagoya Grampus in a 1-1 draw at Yurtec Stadium.
Cerezo Osaka protected Bruno Mendes’ eighth-minute goal in a 1-0 home win over Oita Trinita, while Kawasaki Frontale and Sagan Tosu battled to a scoreless draw at Todoroki Stadium.