The new J.League season got up and running in characteristically unpredictable fashion today, with last year’s two best sides both losing their first matches. I was in Kashima to see the champions Antlers splutter in their opener against FC Tokyo…
KASHIMA, Ibaraki — FC Tokyo caused an upset on the opening day of the J.League season, winning 1-0 away to reigning champion Kashima Antlers on Saturday.
It took an own goal to separate the sides, with the result ultimately decided by unfortunate Kashima substitute Yuto Misao in the 82nd minute.
Both teams had spells in the ascendancy during a closely contested battle, but FC Tokyo coach Yoshiyuki Shinoda was pleased his team was able to start with such an impressive scalp.
“It was the opening game of the season, so we were still a little rusty in some respects,” the 45-year-old said.
“Antlers are not the kind of opponent you can play for a draw against though, and we knew we had to aim to score goals over the whole 90 minutes if we wanted to take anything from this game.”
The visitors certainly started as the more expansive of the two sides, and their first sighter on goal came in the seventh minute when new signing Yoshito Okubo stung the fingers of Kashima goalkeeper Kwoun Sun Tae with an effort from close range.
Yojiro Takahagi then fired straight at Kwoun from distance in the 37th minute, before an unmarked Kensuke Nagai somehow failed to meet a Sei Muroya cross two minutes later.
Pedro Junior reminded Tokyo of the threat Antlers pose on the break with a swift counter in the 43rd minute, but the impressive Muroya recovered well to shut down the danger.
Fourteen minutes after the break it was Okubo’s turn to contribute a glaring miss to the proceedings.
The three-time J1 top scorer signed from Kawasaki Frontale over the offseason looked odds on to score, but got a little overexcited and lashed wildly over from point-blank range after Nagai had prodded a corner in his direction.
He was almost punished for that miss less than a minute later, but Tokyo keeper Akihiro Hayashi did well to foil Pedro Junior on another quick break.
“If Hayashi hadn’t made that save at 0-0 things could have been different,” Shinoda observed afterwards.
Instead it was Tokyo who went on to pick up the three points, with the winner coming eight minutes from time.
Substitute Shoya Nakajima had a shot from range more in hope than expectation, and which looked like a routine collection for Kashima keeper Kwoun.
The South Korean fluffed his lines, though, and spilled the ball into the path of fellow league debutant Misao, who couldn’t react in time to avoid inadvertently sending it into his own net.
Elsewhere, there was plenty of drama in the day’s early kick off as last year’s runner-up Urawa Reds also lost, going down 3-2 in a rollercoaster match away to Yokohama F Marinos.
Marinos took the lead through David Babunski in the 13th minute, but Rafael Silva then struck twice in three second-half minutes to put Reds 2-1 up.
Marinos secured a dramatic late win with a quickfire double of their own, as Hugo Vieira equalized in the 86th minute and Naoki Maeda converted the winner in the second minute of injury time.
Meanwhile, the newly promoted sides had muted days.
Cerezo Osaka drew 0-0 with Jubilo Iwata, while Consadole Sapporo and Shimizu S-Pulse both lost 1-0, against Vegalta Sendai and Vissel Kobe, respectively.