Nagoya rocking the Kasper

Nagoya Grampus picked up a solid three points from a difficult away assignment in the first round of the new J1 season, with Kasper Junker making an immediate impact for his new side… (日本語版)

When Kasper Junker tore in behind and stroked home his second goal after 17 minutes at Mitsuzawa Stadium, you started to get the feeling this could turn into a rout.

Yokohama FC had no answer to Nagoya Grampus’ lighting attacks in the early exchanges, and last year’s J2 runners-up looked like they had perhaps been promoted beyond their station.

As so often happens these days, however, Junker’s jubilant celebrations were drawn to an abrupt halt as referee Akihiko Ikeuchi adopted the now universally-recognised VAR-check pose, and the effort was called back, with Junker harshly adjudged to have been offside.

This lifeline enabled Yokohama to settle a little, and they kept Grampus at arm’s length until half time before making the most of the conditions in the second period to intermittently threaten themselves.

In the end they weren’t able to take anything from the game, but Nagoya goalkeeper Mitch Langerak cut something of a relieved figure at full time.

“When you play against a promoted team in the first game, away, it’s not really what you want,” he said. “We knew it was going to be tough today.

“I’m happy that we won. This was one of the more difficult games we’ll face. Because you come here where they’ll press, a lot of energy in the first game at home. It was going to be hard and thankfully we got the win, that’s all that matters.”

Kensuke Nagai was similarly pragmatic, and full of praise for the rearguard action put in by Langerak and his defenders.

“We were forced back, but the guys at the back persevered well,” the former FC Tokyo man told reporters after the game. “It’s important to win on the first day.

“The wind made things difficult in the second half, and the pitch was really dry so it was difficult to combine. In terms of things to improve, of course we wanted to get the second goal.”

Despite expressing disappointment at Grampus’ inability to add to the scoreline, Nagai was pleased that their opener – converted agilely by Junker in the fourth minute after Yokohama keeper Kengo Nagai had misjudged a Ryuji Izumi corner from the left – came from a dead-ball.

“We didn’t score many goals from set pieces last year, which was disappointing. So it’s pleasing we scored from one today, despite the lingering disappointment about not being able to get a second goal.”

This was the same point match-winner Junker made post match.

“We practice set pieces for a reason, to score goals, and we did it, so I think everybody’s happy.

“It’s a very good start to be decisive from set-pieces – and very important for me, of course, to show the team I can score the goals,” the Dane, who joined on loan from Urawa Reds ahead of the season, said of his debut strike.

“I still think I scored two goals today,” he added with a rueful smile about the attempt chalked off by the VAR. “Maybe the referee will give me one in the next game.

“Of course, if it’s 2-0 it’s a different game, more calm for us. But the three points in the opening game at this stadium – everything was very hard today, so three points is all that matters.”

Indeed, Junker learned first hand just how difficult an away fixture against a J1 newcomer could be 12 months ago.

“I think this is one of the hardest games of the season. Playing here, the first game of the J.League against the team that was promoted. I know last year Urawa played Kyoto and lost 1-0,” he said. 

“So it’s so difficult, these games. We know [Yokohama] are crazy motivated, so I think it’s very, very professional of us to come here, clean sheet, win, three points – we cannot ask for more.”

That echoed the sentiments of the equally satisfied Langerak, who feels the arrival of Junker could help Grampus, who finished a disappointing eighth last year after coming fifth in 2021, push on to challenge higher up the table this season.

“I think with Kasper it’s a huge addition for us. That’s a big signing, and somebody who’s just an out and out striker – who wants to score, that’s what he wants to do. It’s gonna help us. It takes the burden off a lot of the other guys to chip in with goals and things like that.

“I’m feeling really confident, optimistic. It’s hard to say how things will pan out, but I’m optimistic, I think we can do something.”

Junker also has high hopes for the season ahead.

“I think today we showed we are a very, very good team,” the 28-year-old said. “We have a good mentality, we work hard for each other. Amazing defence today in the last 10 minutes. People fighting hard and winning their duels. It’s not only about me, it’s also about the defence today, which was incredibly good, I think.”

Junker also expressed excitement at the potential of the intimidating front three he forms with Nagai and Mateus.

“I think it’s one of our strengths. We didn’t use it as much today as we wanted. Three good players who can do things on their own or as a combination – it’s difficult for the opponent. Of course we want to improve, but I think the three up top today worked very, very hard, which was important for the win.”

Nagai’s pace allied with Mateus’ quality in possession is sure to keep the chances coming for Junker, and with Kyoto next in his crosshairs the goal-getter had an ominous warning for the rest of J1.

“I don’t care if I score with my knee, or my foot, my shoulder – I don’t care. Just hit the goal and make sure it goes in.”


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