East Asia Japan

Fujimoto Bags Brace as Vissel Deny Defending Champs at the Death

Former Oita Trinita and Kagoshima United striker Noriaki Fujimoto was the star for Vissel Kobe as they came back from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 with defending J.League 1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos in their Matchweek 13 game on Saturday night at the Misaki Park Stadium in Kobe. Fujimoto bagged himself a brace as Vissel snatched a point away from the jaws of defeat right on the brink of the match.

Fujimoto had a remarkable rise up the Japanese football pyramids, banging in goals for Kagoshima and Oita in the third and second tiers of Japanese football before hitting his stride in the top flight with the latter. This in turn earned Fujimoto a move to Vissel midway through the 2019 season, where, apart from his contribution in the 2019 Emperor’s Cup final, he had been largely overshadowed by Vissel’s wealth of attacking talents. That didn’t stop Fujimoto from making 10 league appearances this season though, although he only started 4 of those matches with the other 6 being substitute appearances.

Vissel head coach Thorsten Fink started Fujimoto as his spearhead against Yokohama on Saturday, marking the 31-year old’s fifth start of the season. And Fujimoto repaid that trust in him with the game’s opening goal in the 18th minute. Yokohama goalkeeper Park Iru-gyu attempted a pass towards a Yokohama defender, only for Fujimoto to easily intercept the ball. Fujimoto then easily beat Park in a one-on-one battle before splashing the ball into the empty net to give Vissel the lead.

Vissel’s lead only lasted for 9 minutes though, as in the 27th minute Yokohama bagged the equalizer through Brazilian striker Marcos Junior. Working together with Teruhito Nakagawa in the same partnership that devastated the J1 in 2019, Nakagawa passed the ball short towards Marcos as they rushed towards the Vissel defense, before the Brazilian fired a powerful shot that went beyond the reaches of Vissel goalie Hiroki Iikura. The defending champions then assumed leadership of the match shortly afterwards, after a confident penalty from Marcos easily defeated Iikura. 2-1 to Yokohama’s advantage and that was the scoreline coming into half-time.

Yokohama then seemingly sealed the game in the 53rd minute after Iikura was unable to save a close-ranged shot from Nakagawa. 3-1 Yokohama and it seems that Ange Postecoglou’s men will go home with all three points.

However, in the 62nd minute, Thorsten made a series of inspired substitutions. Heavy hitters in Sergei Samper, Kyogo Furuhashi, Gotoku Sakai and Daigo Nishi were brought onto the pitch and it was three of these four substitutes that contributed massively in Vissel’s comeback from the brink.

After an exchange of attacks that lasted all the way into the late stages of the match, Samper lobs a diagonal ball from the midfield towards Sakai in the 90th minute. With injury time looming close, Sakai went down the left wing and sent a long ball towards Fujimoto, who poked it first time into Park’s goal. 3-2 and suddenly Vissel had found themselves a lifeline.

And only moments after Fujimoto’s goal, Vissel struck their equalizer. One minute into injury time, Samper worked his magic from the midfield once again, poking a long ball towards Furuhashi. The speedy winger used his pace to outrun the Yokohama defense before chipping the ball above Park’s head and into the goal for Vissel’s equalizer. 3-3 and that was the final score as Yokohama were left shellshocked by the two quick goals that evaporated their three points right in front of their eyes.

Meanwhile, at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, league leaders Kawasaki Frontale were back at their merciless best as they demolished Shimizu S-Pulse 5-0. A brace from Reo Hatate, combined with goals from Leandro Damiao, Kaoru Mitoma, and club legend Kengo Nakamura – making his first Kawasaki appearance after recovering from a long-term injury that kept him out of the side since November 2nd of last year – ensured a crushing win for Toru Oniki’s men, who recovered well from a slight blip of form that saw them drop points at Nagoya Grampus and Vissel.

Urawa Red Diamonds did well to recover from an early setback as they came from behind to beat Oita 2-1 at the Saitama Stadium 2002, while FC Tokyo made short work of Gamba Osaka, winning 3-1 at the Panasonic Stadium Suita. Late drama was also the feature at the Hitachi Kashiwa Stadium, as a clutch performance from Shoma Doi cancelled out a Michael Olunga brace, with Kashima Antlers coming back from 2-1 down to win 3-2 away at Kashiwa Reysol thanks to two late goals from Doi. Last but not least, Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo played out a goalless draw with Nagoya at the Sapporo Dome, while a 1-1 draw was the final score at the Hiroshima Big Arch as Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vegalta Sendai share the spoils.

Despite resuming operations on August 25th after being shuttered off for two weeks due to COVID-19, the short window of time between the date and Matchweek 13 meant that Sagan Tosu’s away trip to Shonan Bellmare was postponed until further notice.

The final Matchweek 13 game will be played out on Sunday, with Cerezo Osaka visiting Yokohama FC at the NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Stadium.