A bumper crowd of almost 40,000 fans turned up to see Yokohama F. Marinos defeat league rivals and defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima to propel themselves to the top of the J-league division 1. Manabu Saito’s 55th minute goal was enough to claim all 3 points for the home side on a rainy afternoon at the Nissan stadium.
F. Marinos coach Yasuhiro Higuchi encountered a less than ideal week leading up to the match, losing several first-team players. With Brazilian left-back Dutra already ruled out through suspension, Higuchi also lost midfielder Shingo Hyodo picking up a knock midweek. The week also saw winger Manabu Saito make the long trip to Europe with the Japan national squad, returning to training straight from his arrival at Narita airport on Thursday morning.
Fortunately for F. Marinos fans, Saito was able to take his place in the starting eleven and was joined by youngsters Yuhei Sato and Yuta Narawa who replaced Shingo Hyodo and Dutra respectively.
With the sides sitting in first and second place, seperated by just one goal, the onus was very much on F. Marinos to make use of the home advantage. As the sides kicked off in the rain, Sanfrecce came out of the blocks quickly and took advantage of some slack play from the F. Marinos defence. Having won a throw in on the right flank, Sanfrecce winger Mikic played the ball quickly in to the box and only a poor finish in to the side netting kept the score at 0-0.
The Yokohama side also had their chances, with their clearest opportunity coming in the 17th minute when defender Yuji Nakazawa raised high above his marker to nod Shunsuke Nakamura’s free-kick just wide of the post. Sanfrecce midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama also came close to scoring an own goal when his defensive clearance trickled just past Shusaku Nishikawa’s goal.
Sanfrecce yet again took advantage of a lack of concentration from the F. Marinos when Naoki Ishikara was played through one on one, only to hit his effort directly at the onrushing Tetsuya Enomoto.
With Hiroshima playing packing the midfield and closing down F. Marinos playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura at every turn, the onus fell on young winger Manabu Saito to provide the creative flair for the Kanagawa men. Saito stepped up to the plate in the 55th minute. Picking up the ball wide on the left-flank, Saito skipped past his marker before setting of on a run that would end with both the winning goal and a trail of defenders lying in his wake.
Sanfrecce stepped up the pressure after the goal, targeting young left-back Narawa and creating a number of chances from the right flank. F. Marinos goalkeeper Tetsuya Enomoto was in inspired form, however, foiling attempts on goal from both Ishihara and Mizumoto late on in the game.
Despite the onslaught, Sanfrecce were unable to find the equaliser and F. Marinos held out to seal the three points and put themselves 2 points clear of rivals Urawa Reds, who moved up in to 2nd place after a hard fought win over 4th placed Kashima Antlers. F. Marinos will head in to this weekends game away to bottom placed Oita Trinita hoping to win and keep the pressure on their rivals at the top of the J-league division 1.
Here’s our highlights: