And then there were two. A quick start to the season saw three teams head into Matchweek 4 of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE with a perfect record, but this weekend claimed a victim and now there are only two perfect teams remaining - Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus.
But while Sagan Tosu dropped from the ranks of the perfect this weekend, they simply joined another group of three - the imperfect, but undefeated, with draws as the only blemishes on their records. There are just so many good teams out there.
Shimizu S-Pulse 0, Sagan Tosu 0
Sagan Tosu were the surprise package of the early season, winning their first three matches in dominant fashion to jump to second in the table, but they hadn’t played the toughest of schedules. Playing away to S-Pulse on Sunday was their biggest test of the season, and it is one that doomed them to their first dropped points of the campaign. It wasn’t a bad showing by any means for the visitors, though. Sagan were unquestionably the better team and on almost any other day would have walked away winners, but they hit the bar twice late and demanded Shūichi Gonda play flawlessly. Fortunately for S-Pulse, their goalkeeper was in fact flawless, and they became the first to take points off Sagan almost entirely because of Gonda’s heroics.
Kawasaki Frontale 1, Kashiwa Reysol 0
Facing Frontale is the tallest of tasks, but Reysol appeared up for it. They didn’t generate many chances, but they defended as well as any team in the league has against the champions. For more than an hour, only an incredible Kaoru Mitoma run really broke down the Reysol defense, and even then Kim Seung-gyu was there to keep Frontale out. But, finally, in the 80th minute, Frontale found their way through. Once again, it was the speedy Mitoma who did the job, getting in down the left before crossing for Akihiro Ienaga to knock in and deliver Frontale a hard fought win.
Vissel Kobe 0, Nagoya Grampus 1
With Sagan Tosu falling off the pace, Nagoya Grampus were left to keep the pressure on Frontale and keep the pressure on, they did. In a tricky match away to Vissel Kobe, Nagoya simply played their style - sensational, impenetrable defense and efficient attacking. The stout Grampus defense only allowed Mitchell Langerak to face one shot all match, and that was enough because of Sho Inagaki’s absolutely thumping strike. The midfielder was given some space from 30 yards and smashed the ball as hard as a ball can be hit. Not only did the ball come off Inagaki’s foot like a rocket, but he put it right into the top corner for an unreal goal that was deservedly the match winter as Grampus maintained their perfect start to the season.
Yokohama FC 1, Cerezo Osaka 4
Cerezo walked away from Yokohama with three points, but it wasn’t quite as easy as the scoreline suggested. Yuta Toyokawa was able to put Cerezo in front with a clever header, but the visitors didn’t find many opportunities in the first half as the home side defended well. Then Ryo Germain started the second half with a fortunate deflected goal and Yokohama FC were even - dreaming of picking up their first point of the season. But that was the end of the optimism for Yokohama FC. Yoshito Okubo notched his fifth goal of the season minutes after Yokohama’s equalizer, then Mutsuki Kato finished a beautiful counterattack to extend the Cerezo lead. Finally, Toshiyuki Takagi hit a steaming shot late on to wrap up a 4-1 win for Cerezo, while Yokohama will feel as if they wasted a good first hour of play and remain in search of their first mark on the table.
Yokohama F·Marinos 3, Urawa Reds 0
Marinos started the season with a loss, but they have been stupendous ever since and their performance against Urawa Reds was more of the same. Daizen Maeda scored in the second minute, then added a second in the 26th minute for his joining league leading fifth goal of the season. Ryuta Koike put the match to bed in the second half with a goal of his own, but this one was never in doubt. Marinos were simply dominant as they continued their excellent play and run up the table, now into fifth.
Kashima Antlers 1, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1
A rainy Kashima couldn’t douse an exciting battle between two teams trying to jump from midtable to the top four. Kashima was bright early on, but Yuya Asano made sure Sanfrecce would be first on the board with a pretty strike from 20 yards that curled just inside the post. With a goal in hand, Sanfrecce tried their best to protect their lead and were largely effective. Kashima had the ball, but really struggled to break down the good Sanfrecce back line. It was going to take something exceptional to find the goal, and Kashima were finally able to produce just that. Six players combined with a total of nine touches to move the ball so quickly and cleverly into the box, where Ryotaro Araki struck quickly and earned the home side a point in a fantastic showing from both teams as Sanfrecce remained without a loss.
Oita Trinita 1, F.C.Tokyo 1
F.C.Tokyo were bright from the start at The Big Eye, with Diego Oliveira giving the home side fits right away. An early header from the big Brazilian rattled the bar, but he was not going to be denied and a 28th minute run down the left saw him pick out Ryoma Watanabe and put a cross right onto his teammate’s head. Watanabe was not going to miss from there, nodding home for the opening tally. Tokyo continued to threaten, primarily on the counterattack, and Diego Oliveira could have had another goal or two, but Oita Trinita just barely kept them out. That proved crucial, because late on, they stole a point. A long ball found Kohei Isa in the center of the box and Isa gorgeously chested the ball onto the run of Yamato Machida, who finished with authority on the first touch to split points and keep Trinita undefeated.
Shonan Bellmare 3, Vegalta Sendai 1
Shonan Bellmare entered the weekend without a point this season and in the drop zone, but that’s not the case anymore. It started quickly for the home side, too, as Ryo Takahashi was first to a loose ball on the edge of the box and hit it low and hard, just inside the post for a goal after just three minutes. Vegalta Sendai answered with pressure, but they couldn’t turn their many shots into a goal and Bellmare extended their lead after 50 minutes. First, Takahashi played the role of helper, hitting a beautiful ball for Shintaro Nago to finish, then Shuto Machino hit a powerful header from a corner kick and Bellmare had a three goal advantage. Vegalta Sendai did finally get one goal through Yoshiki Matsushita, but it was not nearly enough as Shonan Bellmare got their points and jumped out of the relegation zone.
Tokushima Vortis 1, Avispa Fukuoka 2
The battle of the newly promoted sides could have gone either way. Both sides flashed the ability to combine and create, but also had some niggles at the back. Vortis scored after just two minutes, as a quick counterattack caught Fukuoka out and Yuki Kakita put the home side in front. Not long after they rattled the crossbar, but even at just 1-0, they went into halftime as deserved leaders. The second half flipped, though. Fukuoka was the dangerous team on the counter and a beautiful 53rd minute combination in the middle sent Emil Salomonsson in alone on goal, where he finished with ease to level the match. Unfortunately, the match ended up decided by a terrible mistake as Diego completely misjudged a high ball in the box, missed the header and had it bounce back off the turf and onto his arm for a penalty. Takeshi Kanamori then buried the spot kick and Fukuoka walked away with their first win of the season.