(Text by Paul Freelend)
On a weekend when much of the attention went to Hisato Sato’s record-breaking strike, Omiya Ardija carved out a little history of their own.
Last season’s J2 League champions marked their first home match back in the top flight with a 2-0 victory over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday. The triumph at Nack 5 Stadium left Omiya joint-top of J1 with Kashima Antlers after two rounds.
It also marked the first time in 11 top-flight seasons that Omiya started their campaign with back-to-back wins. Having bounced back into J1 just a year after being relegated, it won its season-opener 1-0 at FC Tokyo on February 27.
“Of course it’s a relief, and besides there are two clean sheets. It’s a reward for the players working hard, and we’re happy about it,” Omiya winger Nejc Pecnik said.
“It’s tough to say [how the season will go], but definitely we have potential. Everybody likes it so far. We have two clean sheets and six points, so we are happy.”
Dragan Mrdja scored twice in the first 15 minutes for Omiya, who then held firm despite sustained pressure from Kashiwa. His first goal came after nine minutes when visiting goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura saved a Pecnik free kick but gave up a rebound, with Mrdja reacting quickest to the loose ball.
Mrdja did most of the heavy lifting for his second goal. After collecting a ball down the left channel, he nimbly made his way along the end line, slipped past Tatsuya Masushima and beat Nakamura at the near post.
Kashiwa manager Milton Mendes reacted by bringing on Ryosuke Yamanaka after just 21 minutes. The move had a swift effect, with Yamanaka and Ederson frequently combining down the left and giving Omiya fullback Takuya Wada difficulties for most of the evening.
All that pressure failed to produce a goal, though, and two losses to start the season only further complicate life for Mendes and Kashiwa. The side is still piecing itself together after the off-season departures and top scorers Masato Kudo and Cristiano, as well as Daisuke Suzuki, Naoya Kondo and Takanori Sugeno at the back. Reinforcements are on the way as Kashiwa announced on Friday that they had signed defender Patrick from Brazilian club Ferroviaria.
On Sunday, Sato scored perhaps the most notable goal of the weekend in Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s 1-1 draw at Nagoya Grampus. His 43rd-minute strike was his 158th in the top flight, breaking a three-way tie with the venerable Masashi Nakayama and Kawasaki Frontale’s Yoshito Okubo as the J-League’s all-time career scorer. Okubo had joined Sato and Nakayama on 157 goals a day earlier, scoring the opener as Kawasaki drew 4-4 at home against Shonan Bellmare. Former Catania and Al Nasr striker Takayuki Morimoto earned the hosts a point with his 91st-minute goal.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Shun Nasagawa scored the only goal as Gamba Osaka won 1-0 at Ventforet Kofu. Jay Bothroyd found the net eight minutes from full time to give Jubilo Iwata a 2-1 win over Urawa Reds, while FC Tokyo rallied after going behind after just seven minutes at Yurtec Stadium to beat Vegalta Sendai 2-1.
On Saturday, Kashima kept up their 100 percent start with a second 1-0 win, this time at home against Sagan Tosu, thanks to Mu Kanazaki’s goal after 31 minutes. Takahito Soma and Pedro Junior each scored twice as Vissel Kobe won 6-3 at home over Albirex Niigata, and Shunsuke Nakamura capped off the evening with a trademark free-kick goal as Yokohama F Marinos drew 1-1 at Avispa Fukuoka.
2016 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 2
Saturday (March 5)
Omiya Ardija 2-0 Kashiwa Reysol
Kashima Antlers 1-0 Sagan Tosu
Kawasaki Frontale 4-4 Shonan Bellmare
Vissel Kobe 6-3 Albirex Niigata
Avisa Fukuoka 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Sunday (March 6)
Ventforet Kofu 0-1 Gamba Osaka
Urawa Reds 1-2 Jubilo Iwata
Nagoya Grampus 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Vegalta Sendai 1-2 FC Tokyo