The WE League kicked off this weekend and we have all the action from one bumper-packed Sunday across Japan.
INAC Kobe Leonessa 5-0 Omiya Ardija Ventus
When it finally came to the football kicking off, fans didn’t have to wait long for the first goal of the new league as INAC Kobe (last season’s runners up) faced off against Ventus, the lowest ranked team admitted into the league having finished eighth in the second (now, third) tier last season. In fact, it only took 180 seconds for the league to claim its first goal when Yui Narumiya attempted to chip the onrushing Arisa Mochizuki only to see her effort clip the upright and bounce out. Megumi Takase, following up on the play, knocked the rebound in on the turn and gave INAC the lead.
A mismatch on paper, the hosts never really had to get out of third gear to work Ventus and before long it was two as Mochizuki let Maika Hamano’s tame effort bounce through her body. Ventus struggled to live with Hina Sugita’s work on the left all match and having been involved with the second goal, Sugita played a sizeable part in the third too, feeding the ball through for Moeno Sakaguchi whose ball flashed across the area. Yuki Sakai unfortunately then crashed that pass into her own.
Although Ardija had been looking a little more assured since the hydration break half-way through the first half, the goal zapped all their composure away again and just four minutes later, Sugita’s cross was nodded home by Hamano to leave the visitors with no way back.
The match reached its peak just before the hour when Takase claimed her second of the day, nipping in behind to ease Moeno Sakaguchi’s wonderfully lofted pass around the goalkeeper.
Tokyo Verdy Beleza 1-2 Urawa Reds
In what was set to be the blockbuster clash of the day, last season’s champions Urawa Reds travelled to third place finishers Tokyo Verdy Beleza and the match did not disappoint. Despite having been the team under the cosh at the start, it was Beleza who took the lead after the half-hour when Riko Ueki and Rikako Kobayashi combined to cut through the Urawa defence. With 39-year-old Kozue Ando doing the bulk of the heavy lifting for the visitors in attack, at half-time Reds coach Naoki Kusunose brought on last season’s top goalscorer, Yuika Sugasawa to help bolster the attack. Sugasawa’s introduction had the desired impact and four minutes into the second half, the seasoned international got her body in front of her marker to fire home Ando’s squared pass.
Fiercely contested until the dying moments, the promise of a winning goal seemed to hang in the air, tantalisingly close for both and when the third and final goal did arrive, it was a thing of beauty. The goal was born of a move that started and ended with Yuzuho Shiokoshi, the attacker teeing up Sugasawa to unleash pandemonium in the box. Risa Shimizu’s last-ditch block to deny Mai Shimada was for naught as the ball returned to Shiokoshi who eased away from Nanami Kitamura, found space at the top of the box to spin and lashed the ball between Shino Matsuda and Kitamura into the top corner. A highlight of the whole opening round.
MyNavi Sendai 0-0 Nojima Stella
There was almost an inevitability that the third match of the day would bring about a scoreless draw, especially given the frantic end to the TV-Urawa game, and indeed, that’s exactly what fans watching in Sendai got. Although Stella had a few chances, the match was largely played in their half as the match descended into attack versus defence. The away goal somehow survived unpenetrated throughout the 90 minutes even though the bar was left rattled twice.
Elfen Saitama 0-3 Hiroshima Regina
Despite a strong enough start to the match, Elfen fast faded against brand spanking new, only just founded, Sanfrecce Hiroshima Regina. With another goal that started with a deep ball lofted out from the back, the visitors broke forward and thanks to Yo Tachibana’s diligent work at the end line, keeping the chance alive, the forward pulling the ball back for Rika Masuya. The effort from Masuya was a low and ultimately tame one that Mami Ueno was happy to flick on its way through, her touch dragging the ball to the bottom corner and leaving Mayu Funada scrambling to prevent it from creeping in. The hosts undone again 72 seconds later and unable to recover after Masuya had sent Yoshino Nakashima’s cutback home from point-blank range.
The gloss was put on by Nakashima ten minutes into the second half when she picked the ball up in midfield, laid it off to Masuya and streaked through the centre of the pitch to get onto the end of Masuya’s through ball. The 22-year-old ghosted through the Elfen defence to strike the ball as she arrived in the box, sending it high over Funada and into the top corner and put the match to bed.
Albirex Niigata 1-3 Nagano Parceiro
It was almost the perfect start for the hosts when Yume Takikawa’s wayward cross flew over Yuria Ito and threatened to dip under the bar 13 seconds into the match but instead, arced away from danger. The breakthrough came just nine minutes in when Rio Takizawa threaded the ball through to Chise Takizawa to race onto, the 20-year-old leaving three defenders in her wake as she raced into the box and curled the ball around Chika Hirao.
Forced to push Megumi Kamionobe’s whipped corner over the bar to prevent an Olimpico, Ito was left red-faced at the resulting set piece when Hikaru Kitagawa pin-point volley from Yuna Sonoda’s flat’s corner delivery shot between her knees and in. The parity was short-lived however, with the hosts regaining their advantage just 51 second later in a fashion similar to Hiroshima’s first, from the ball over the top to the dogged work in attack and slight deflection (this time from Niigata defender Ruka Yamaya) to send Sayaka Mitani’s low strike plumb into the bottom corner.
The match put to bed not long after the hour when Chise Takizawa had time to pick out Akimi Kawafune in a world of space on the right side of the box, the attacker easing away from the nearest defender before pulling the trigger. The bobbly shot air-balled by teammate Hinako Suzuki who managed to get closer to the ball than any of the six Albirex players around her, as it bounced through to the bottom corner.
One of the three teams who spent last season in the second tier (Ventus and Elfen the other two), Parceiro, are the side who look to have come the furthest in the off-season and although Albirex did little to help themselves out, the visitors in Niigata played with an unexpected level of calm and experience.