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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Grampus earn draw in opener

Kennedy's clutch spot kick helps reigning champions avoid defeat

Staff writer

TOYOTA, Aichi Pref. — Josh Kennedy dispatched a last-second penalty but Kensuke Nagai stole the show on his home debut as defending champion Nagoya Grampus rescued a face-saving 1-1 draw with Yokohama F. Marinos on the opening day of the J. League season on Saturday.

News photo
Kick it hard: Nagoya rookie forward Kensuke Nagai fires a shot as F. Marinos defender Yuji Nakazawa chases from behind in their J. League season-opening game on Saturday at Toyota Stadium. Grampus tied the match in injury time and it ended as a 1-1 draw. KYODO PHOTO

Nagoya, which won its first-ever title last year with a 10-point margin over its nearest rival, found itself staring down the barrel of defeat to the team that finished eighth when Shingo Hyodo gave Marinos a 63rd-minute lead at Toyota Stadium.

But Nagai's arrival as a substitute three minutes later jolted the home side into life, with the striker's electric pace terrorizing the Yokohama defense and drawing an injury-time penalty from a Yuzo Kurihara foul that Kennedy drove home with the last kick of the match.

"It's ridiculous how fast he is," Kennedy said of Nagai, who joined Grampus over the winter after appearing for the national team last year while still at Fukuoka University. "It's good that he's on our team, and now that we've seen what he can do and how quick he is, I think we're going to learn how to use him."

Nagoya manager Dragan Stojkovic was also impressed by the 22-year-old, but was more relieved to escape the match with a point.

"It was maybe a surprise for everybody, but I think his speed and his determination were absolutely great," Stojkovic said. "In 20 minutes he had three or four very good opportunities. He hit the bar and finally his penetration gave us the chance to equalize from the penalty spot.

"I think we deserved more than a draw because we dominated the game with our style, we created many opportunities but we scored in the last second and we absolutely deserved it. Losing in the beginning is not good, but a draw is correct."

Marinos led a charmed life for much of the first half, with Hiroyuki Taniguchi heading off the line to deny Mu Kanazaki minutes before goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura got just enough contact on a Kennedy shot to send it squirming safely wide of the post.

But the visitors had their share of chances, and it was not entirely against the run of play when Hyodo lashed in the opener. The 25-year-old picked up the ball on the right before drifting across the edge of the box, then cracked a crisp shot low into the corner past goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki's reach.

Yuji Nakazawa headed a Keiji Tamada effort off the line as Grampus went in search of an instant reply, and Nagai's arrival in place of Kanazaki did not take long to have an effect. Iikura excelled himself to keep out shots from the substitute and defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka, before Nagai hit the bar as time began to run away from the home side.

One final turbo-charged run was enough to coax a foul out of Kurihara, however, and Kennedy held his nerve to bury the spot kick.

"Speed is my selling point and I wanted to make use of that," Nagai said. "There was space for me and I wanted to shoot, but it led to the penalty. I would have liked to have scored, but we didn't lose, and that's the main thing. Hopefully I can go on to build on this."

If his manager has anything to do with it, his feet will remain firmly on the ground.

"Please don't be euphoric," Stojkovic told reporters keen to hail a new superstar. "It's not necessary. It's only his first game. He showed good potential and that is a good thing, but let's go step by step."

Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka stole a match over city rival Cerezo with a 2-1 win at Expo Stadium, while Kawasaki Frontale beat Montedio Yamagata 2-0.

There was a rude awakening for promoted Avispa Fukuoka, who crashed to a 3-0 defeat at home to Albirex Niigata, while fellow new boys Ventforet Kofu also went down, 1-0 to Jubilo Iwata.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima drew 0-0 with Vegalta Sendai, while in the day's late game, Kashiwa Reysol beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-0.

Fergie wants hearing

MANCHESTER , England ( (AP)) Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson appealed against a charge of improper conduct by the Football Association on Friday following his criticism of a referee.

Ferguson was furious with match official Martin Atkinson's performance in United's 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League on Tuesday.

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