It had all the hallmarks of a classic – a local derby, a big crowd – and all that Saturday’s clash between Yokohama F. Marinos and Shonan Bellmare lacked was a dominant display from Shunsuke Nakamura.
The returning hero was cheered on by 32,228 fans who turned out to witness his Nissan Stadium homecoming, but the Japan international looked off the pace as Marinos swept aside promoted Shonan Bellmare 3-0.
Nakamura received a predictably warm welcome from the Tricolore faithful, and the prodigal son laid on the first goal as his corner was headed home by powerful defender Yuzo Kurihara.
The visitor’s overworked goalkeeper Yosuke Data HK Nozawa was then forced to turn away an accurate free-kick from the former Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol midfielder, but it wasn’t until the hour mark that Marinos doubled their lead through highly-rated young striker Kazuma Watanabe.
A tiring Nakamura made way for substitute Kenta Kano with six minutes remaining, and the diminutive Kano added a late third for the hosts as he drilled home from distance in the final minute of play.
But the match was all about Shunsuke Nakamura, and his return overshadowed a first ever win as coach for former Marinos attacking midfielder Kazushi Kimura.
Nakamura is just one of a number of high-profile stars to have returned from Europe, but with Junichi Inamoto and Shinji Ono having already made their debuts for Kawasaki Frontale and Shimizu S-Pulse respectively, all eyes were on the Marinos talisman as he made his first appearance in the J. League since 2002.
Referee faces suspension following spot-kick blunder
Referee Takuto Okabe faces a two-match suspension after he allowed Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s disputed third-minute penalty against Shimizu S-Pulse to stand.
The hosts were awarded the penalty in the Round 1 clash after visiting goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe hauled down Yojiro Takahagi inside the area.
Defender Tomoaki Makino placed the ball on the spot and shaped up to take the kick, only for captain Hisato Sato to race out out of a line of players and surprise Nishibe by stroking the ball home from twelve yards.
The Japan Football Association has admitted that the rehearsed move was illegal, with Makino originally identifing himself as the designated spot-kick taker.
The match finished in a 1-1 draw, and Makino and Sato are expected to escape punishment for their unsportsmanlike conduct.
Referee Okabe may not be so fortunate, with the hapless match official now expected to miss two games for his blunder.