Football Tribe SEA Editor
The 2020 J.League Cup kicked-off yesterday, with fans all over Japan being treated with what could be described as the dress rehearsal of the upcoming season. Teams participating in the group stages of the competition played their first matches around 5 days before the 2020 J.League 1 season kicks-off, allowing head coaches to formulate and test their strongest lineups for the first league match of the season.
The results of the J.League Cup’s first matches did not produce many significant surprises at all. Most of the teams favored to win their matches managed to walk away with all three points, with the exception of Kashima Antlers. Kashima, playing only their second competitive match underneath new head coach Antonio Carlos Zago, lost 1-0 to Nagoya Grampus at the Paloma Mizuho Stadium. This was Kashima’s second straight competitive defeat underneath Zago, having ignominiously exited the 2020 AFC Champions League in the play-off round after losing 1-0 at home to Australia’s Melbourne Victory.
On paper, considering that Kashima had finished 3rd the previous season and Nagoya in 13th, the match should be a piece of cake for Zago’s men. Especially considering Zago pulled out his strongest lineup, which has the likes of Leo Silva, Shoma Doi, Rikuto Hirose, Everaldo, Juan Alano and goalkeeper Kwon Sun-tae. Despite this, Kashima had problems breaking down a resilient Nagoya defense, who were playing in front of their passionate supporters. Nagoya soon caught Kashima on the counter and opened the scoring in the 43rd minute through Matheus. The first half ends 1-0 to Nagoya.
The second half saw some discipline defending from Nagoya which frustrated Kashima to no end. This frustration culminates in ugly scenes in injury time as 18-year old Kashima youngster Yuta Matsumura received a straight red card from the referee after a dangerous studs-up tackle on Nagoya goalie Mitch Langerak. The former Melbourne Victory, VfB Stuttgart, and Borussia Dortmund goalkeeper was clattered by Yuta during a skirmish in front of the Nagoya goal, leaving the referee no option but to send the young midfielder off. Yuta later took on to Twitter to send his apologies to Mitch, which the Australian warmly accepted. The match ends 1-0 for Nagoya, condemning Kashima to their second-straight competitive defeat – not a good start to the season for a team of their stature.
Yesterday’s shock wasn’t limited to Kashima alone. Newly-promoted Kashiwa Reysol pulled off an impressive 1-0 win at Gamba Osaka, while Shonan Bellmare, once again tipped for relegation, managed to earn themselves a hard-fought 1-0 home win over Oita Trinita thanks to a last-gasp penalty.
Other results were quite predictable – Urawa Red Diamonds crushed Vegalta Sendai 5-2, while a similar demolition job was seen at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, where defending J.League Cup champions Kawasaki Frontale smashed Shimizu S-Pulse 5-1. Cerezo Osaka notched off an impressive home win as they demolished Matsumoto Yamaga 4-1, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima battled to a 2-0 win away at Yokohama FC. Last but not least, last year’s runners-up Consadole Sapporo cruised to an easy 3-0 win at Sagan Tosu’s Ekimae Real Estate Stadium.
2019 J1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos, 2019 J1 runners-up FC Tokyo, and 2019 Emperor’s Cup winners Vissel Kobe were exempted from the 2020 J.League Cup group stage, and the trio will await the other teams in the competition’s knockout stage.