J1 League Recap: Thai, Brazilian newcomers shine in opening weekend

The 2018 MEIJI YASUDA J1 League season kicked off this weekend, with several other title favorites demonstrating their potential for the coming campaign.

The first match of the year between Sagan Tosu and Vissel Kobe kicked off on Friday night as part of a newly-launched campaign between the J.League and domestic broadcasters DAZN. Sagan needed just three minutes to take the lead through Kyosuke Tagawa’s penalty kick, but Vissel snagged a late draw when former Samurai Blue striker Mike Havenaar found the back of the net in the 87th minute.

The second half featured the J.League debut of Thai defender Theerathon Bunmathan, who came on for Vissel in the 75th minute and quickly impressed with a free kick attempt that threatened Sagan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda.

On Saturday, two of Theerathon’s compatriots would face off as Teerasil Dangda’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima hosted Chanathip Songkrasin’s Consadole Sapporo. Theerasil’s debut in front of over 17,000 fans at Edion Stadium was one for the record books after he headed in Yoshifumi Kashiwa’s cross to record the first goal by a Thai player in the J1. That goal turned out to be the difference-maker for Sanfrecce, who won their first match under new manager Hiroshi Jofuku.

The showdown between Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus at Panasonic Stadium Suita offered plenty of fireworks, beginning with Gamba veteran Yasuhito Endo’s opener from the top of the penalty area in the 13th minute. Grampus responded in the 26th minute when newly-arrived Brazilian star Jo assisted Gabriel Xavier’s equalizer from close range.

In the second half it was Grampus’ turn to take the lead when defender Rocha found himself behind the Gamba back line following a free kick to slot the ball past Masaaki Higashiguchi. A Shun Nagasawa header put the hosts level in the 79th minute, but just five minutes later it was Jo who opened his J.League account with the game-winner.

Defending champions Kawasaki Frontale made short work of Jubilo Iwata on Sunday, amassing their 3-0 lead by halftime through goals by Kengo Nakamura, Shogo Taniguchi, and Eduardo. Meanwhile, Cerezo Osaka’s Yoichiro Kakitani scored late in their 1-1 draw with Yokohama F. Marinos to deny a debut win to former Socceroos head coach Ange Postecoglou, who joined F. Marinos this winter.

Full Results – 2018 J1 League Round 1

Sagan Tosu 1-1 Vissel Kobe

FC Tokyo 1-1 Urawa Reds

Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 Consadole Sapporo

Gamba Osaka 2-3 Nagoya Grampus

Shonan Bellmare 2-1 V-Varen Nagasaki

Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Kashiwa Reysol

Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Kashima Antlers

Jubilo Iwata 0-3 Kawasaki Frontale

Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Yokohama F. Marinos