Kawasaki – It didn’t take long for reigning J. League first-division champion Kawasaki to pick up exactly where they left off after last year’s record-breaking season.
Former J1 MVP Akihiro Ienaga scored the first goal of the campaign through a split-second volley — and the second with his head, shortly before halftime — as Frontale dominated Kanagawa Derby rival Yokohama F. Marinos on the way to a 2-0 win on Friday night in the league’s opening game.
“This wasn’t a good game. We couldn’t play our football and we were totally dominated by a much better team,” Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou said after the match. “We can’t play like that, we can’t play with that mentality and be successful.
“We need to improve and we will improve.”
Yokohama goalkeeper Powell Obinna Obi, who last fall went from playing on loan with the second division’s Tochigi SC to featuring for Marinos in the Asian Champions League, made some fine saves early against Kawasaki’s powerhouse attack, but found himself increasingly exposed as the match progressed.
“(Obi) had a strong first half, which he had to because it would have been embarrassing for us. He’s developing all the time, he’s someone we want to invest in,” Postecoglou said. “With young goalkeepers you understand there’s going to be ups and downs. Today he was one of the few who could hold his head up high.”
It took just 20 minutes for Obi to pay a hard price after Frontale pushed up the right side, Ienaga volleying in a superb backheel flick from Miki Yamane from in front of the net.
“We’ve been practicing plays like that and it was good that we could make it work on the pitch,” Ienaga said. “Yamane sent a great ball from the right and all I had to do was focus on my shot.”
Ienaga’s second of the night came just two minutes before halftime as he rushed to head in a pinpoint cross from Ao Tanaka.
“When Ao broke through I expected a cross to come from the right. I got into position and he sent a great ball,” Ienaga said.
Frontale’s defense looked far from invincible, giving up several chances to Marinos in the second half — including a strong mid-range shot by Ado Onaiwu that ricocheted off the left post.
Absent from Kawasaki’s scoreline was Kaoru Mitoma, last year’s rookie sensation and Best XI selection. The 23-year-old midfielder threatened the goal on multiple occasions but failed to open his league account after scoring twice in last weekend’s Super Cup.
The showdown at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki took place a year and a day after the league’s 2020 season was suspended due to the coronavirus — a stoppage that went on to last four months.
Friday’s sold-out crowd of 4,868 braved low temperatures and a kickoff time that had been rescheduled to 6 p.m. from 7 p.m. due to the ongoing state of emergency in Kanagawa and several other prefectures.
“A lot of people’s efforts have helped us reach this point of being able to play,” Frontale manager Toru Oniki said. “Just like last year, if we’re able to encourage people with our style of soccer, it’s more than just about winning — we’re carrying their hopes and fighting for them. We’re very happy to be able to play despite the circumstances of the pandemic.”
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