Ex-Yokohama F·Marinos striker Daizen Maeda scored a first-half hat trick against his former team to deliver a memorable start to Celtic’s summer tour of Japan, but couldn’t bring The Hoops victory as they lost, 6-4, on his return to Nissan Stadium.
Three other J.League alums — Yuki Kobayashi, Reo Hatate, and Maeda’s former Marinos teammate Tomoki Iwata — started for Celtic, while reigning Scottish Premiership Player of the Year Kyogo Furuhashi came off the bench for The Bhoys in a match that saw Celtic’s handful of Japanese stars given a heartfelt reception by a crowd of over 20,000.
It was Marinos who started the brighter of the two sides, with current Meiji Yasuda J1 League leading scorer Anderson Lopes slotting home effortlessly after winning a loose ball from former England international Joe Hart.
Maeda, however, would equalize for Celtic just moments later with a first-time finish from a square ball, before giving them the lead in the 21st minute with a similar tap-in, this time at the back post.
Again, however, it was an immediate reply from the opposition — this time from Yokohama as veteran midfielder Kota Mizunuma knotted the game up at 2-2 with a back-post finish of his own.
Celtic would take a 3-2 lead into halftime, though, with Maeda sealing a remarkable first-half hat-trick with a side-footed strike from close range in the 42nd minute.
After the break, though, the second half would belong fully to the reigning J.League champions.
Anderson Lopes again capitalized on a defensive error to equalize in the 59th minute, before 34-year-old defender Yuki Saneto poked home from 12 yards to swing the pendulum back in Yokohama’s favor.
From there, Ryo Miyaichi continued his Tricolore resurgence with a pair of impressive tallies to put the contest out of reach. In the 85th minute, he rose highest to nod home a curling cross, before uncorking a first-time strike from the edge of the box three minutes later to make it 6-3.
Celtic would pull one back in stoppage time through a long-distance laser from David Turnbull, but it would be little more than a consolation goal, with the final whistle arriving soon after to make the 6-4 scoreline official.
While international friendlies do not always manage to capture the imagination, this one would be hard to forget, especially for those who made the trip to Yokohama on a warm July night.
After a ten-goal thriller, a Maeda homecoming hat-trick, J.League fans welcoming their heroes back from Scotland, and plenty of Celtic supporters from across the globe getting their first taste of a matchday in Japan, this was indeed a friendly that will live long in the memories of both sets of fans.