Current J.League 1 leaders Kawasaki Frontale were made to work hard for their win on Wednesday night, as they edged out Yokohama FC 3-2 at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium. However, Kawasaki’s 16th win of the season was not the highlight of Wednesday’s Matchweek 18 game, instead it was the sight of Yokohama FC’s veteran players in action – Shunsuke Nakamura, Daisuke Matsui, and most importantly Kazuyoshi Miura made starting appearances against the league leaders, with the latter etching himself in history books as the oldest player to start a J.League top-flight match at the ripe old age of 53 years, 6 months, and 28 days.
“King Kazu” easily trounced the previous record holder for the oldest player to start a J1 match – Masashi Nakayama was 45 years, 2 months, and 1 day old when he started for Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo all the way back in 2012. In his first top-flight match since 2007, Kazuyoshi was given the honor of wearing the captain’s armband in Wednesday’s trip to Kawasaki and he led his teammates admirably against the formidable league leaders. Celtic legend Nakamura (42-years old) and former Lechia Gdansk player Matsui (39-years old) were also given nods by Yokohama FC’s head coach Takahiro Shimotaira, ensuring a vintage-feel Yokohama FC starting lineup powered by a trio of veterans at the Todoroki.
Kawasaki had taken the lead in the 22nd minute through Ao Tanaka’s well-taken shot and they did limit Yokohama FC to one shot throughout the first half, however the visitors’ veterans fared quite well against a youthful Kawasaki side whose players were trying to impress Japan national team head coach Hajime Moriyasu. Moriyasu was in attendance at the Todoroki to observe potential players for his future Olympics squad, with Tanaka being one such player.
Fellow Olympic hopeful Reo Hatate then made it 2-0 for Kawasaki in the start of the second half, taking advantage of a precise ball from Kawasaki’s very own veteran Yu Kobayashi. Yokohama FC refused to give up that easily though and they slashed the deficit by half in the 48th minute, only two minutes after Hatate’s goal. Nakamura showed that despite his advanced age he’s still a quality player who’s aging like fine wine, curling in his trademarked breathtaking free-kick that was bumped into the Kawasaki goal by Yuki Kobayashi’s backside.
Kazuyoshi was withdrawn in the 56th minute in favor of 19-year old striker Koki Saito and King Kazu’s exit was greeted with a wave of heartwarming applause from the 4,723 people attending the match from the Todoroki stands. Nakamura and Matsui were also withdrawn shortly after Kazuyoshi in the hour-mark, with Shimotaira deploying Leandro Domingues and Kohei Tezuka in their place.
Hatate seemingly sealed all three points for Kawasaki in the 67th minute with his side’s third goal of the night. Hatate darted down from the left wing, avoiding a tackle from Yuki in the process before angling in a shot that went past Yokohama FC goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan.
However, Kensuke Sato would ensure that Kawasaki would have a tough time defending their lead in the 74th minute, finishing off a brilliant Yokohama FC counterattack that saw Domingues performing the decisive cross that enabled Sato to fire home.
Despite Sato’s goal threatening a comeback from Yokohama FC, Kawasaki managed to defend their slender lead all the way into full-time, surviving the encounter with a 3-2 win.
J.League chairman Mitsuru Murai had this to say in regards of Kazuyoshi’s milestone appearance, “Kazu, congratulations in becoming the J1’s oldest player. This is surely the fruit of your strenuous efforts to stay fit as a professional player. This great record, which will surely live on in Japanese soccer history, will shine a light on what lies ahead for other players as well as children who hope to become soccer players one day. The word sees you continuing your challenge, and your presence is our pride. I look forward to even more activity from you in the future.”
Matchweek 18 also saw a heated battle between 2nd placed Cerezo Osaka and 3rd placed FC Tokyo at the latter’s Ajinomoto Stadium, which FC Tokyo won 2-0. Kashima Antlers and Kashiwa Reysol completed the top five, winning 1-0 over Shonan Bellmare and Consadole respectively.
Vissel Kobe, playing in their first match since the resignation of their head coach Thorsten Fink, managed to stave off their rot in form after edging out Sagan Tosu 4-3 at the Misaki Park Stadium, while Sagan’s Kyushu rivals Oita Trinita succumbed to a 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Defending J1 champions Yokohama F. Marinos managed to beat Vegalta Sendai 3-1 at the Nissan Stadium, and last but not least there were 2-1 wins for both Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka over Shimizu S-Pulse and Nagoya Grampus respectively.