Reigning champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima won 1-0 away to Cerezo Osaka today in the J-League curtain raiser, courteousy of a fine second half volley from defender Tsukasu Shiotani. All the attention was on Cerezo’s summer signing Diego Forlan and while he showed glimpses of his class at times, he rarely threatened to open his scoring account.
It was a typical Sanfrecce Hiroshima performance; a near perfect replay of numerous tight victories over the last couple of seasons, as they conceded territory and possession to their hosts while looking to strike on the counter. In a disappointing first half, there were only a few efforts of note, Ishihara and Shiotani heading wide and high respectively for Sanfrecce, while Forlan struck the wall with a free kick and blazed over from 25 yards after a nice one two with the otherwise anonymous Kakitani. Cerezo defender Yamashita saw yellow as he made Hisato Sato’s ankle the object of his first half attentions.
The second period offered a little more intensity as Popovic’s men attempted to give the home crowd something to celebrate. Despite their continued pressure however, they could not breakdown the champions defences as they repelled every cross that arrived in their box and closed off central avenues, meaning Hasegawa and Yamaguchi struggled to provide service to Kakitani and Forlan. Maruhashi pushed on from left back and raised the tempo of Cerezo attacks but could not make a decisive contribution with his final ball.
As the match progressed you began to feel you had seen this movie before, and the inevitable transpired midway the second half. The industrious Ishihara, who worked tirelessly throughout, made space in the inside right channel and his hip-high cut back was volleyed into the net by Shiotani. Shortly afterwards, Notsuda should have made it two but failed to convert when one on one with the goalkeeper.
Cerezo continued to press thereafter but could not muster a clear chance, and while there will be more to come from this talented and exciting side, the visitors gave them an early season lesson in game management and pragmatism.
New season, same old Sanfrecce.
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