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Soccer: Frontale open 2021 campaign with Super Cup win over Gamba

Yu Kobayashi, right, scores the winner for Kawasaki Frontale in the 96th minute of their 3-2 victory over Gamba Osaka in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup at Saitama Stadium in Saitama, Japan on Feb. 20, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Yu Kobayashi struck the winner in the 96th minute Saturday as reigning J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale overcame last season's runners-up, Gamba Osaka, in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup 3-2.

    Star winger Kaoru Mitoma scored twice for Kawasaki in the first half of the 2021 season curtain raiser before Gamba fought back with a close-range effort from Shinya Yajima and a penalty from Patric.

    But club talisman Kobayashi came through in the clutch for Kawasaki as he has done so many times, after entering as a 72nd-minute substitute at Saitama Stadium.

    Displaying their trademark ability to quickly surge forward in attack, Toru Oniki's men broke the deadlock in injury time after Ao Tanaka threaded a pass through the middle of the pitch to Daiya Tono, who immediately played Kobayashi into the area.

    The 33-year-old striker beat Gamba keeper Masaaki Higashiguchi with a clinical finish from just inside the box.

    "Daiya played the ball to me perfectly. It was right on course," Kobayashi said.

    Having scored the winner in Frontale's 1-0 victory over Gamba in the Emperor's Cup final on New Year's Day, Mitoma was the bane of Tsuneyasu Miyamoto's team again on Saturday.

    The 23-year-old, who topped the J-League Best 11 vote last year in his rookie season, was a threat from the outset, hitting the side netting on a counterattack in the sixth minute.

    New Kawasaki signing Joao Schmidt headed into the post off an early corner, while at the other end, Patric was stopped by Frontale keeper Jung Sung Ryong after attempting an audacious bicycle kick.

    Mitoma gave Kawasaki the lead from a counterattack in the 29th minute, running onto a through ball from Miki Yamane and deftly firing past Higashiguchi from a tight angle inside the area.

    He scored his second three minutes later, tapping home nonchalantly after Yamane's miscued shot found him directly in front of goal.

    Starting the second half with more energy, Gamba gained new life when Yajima scored in the 60th minute, netting from the middle of the area after the Kawasaki defense failed to clear.

    Patric tied things up in the 67th minute, blasting his shot past Jung after Yamane was penalized for a handball.

    Kawasaki will kick off the J-League season on Friday against Yokohama F Marinos, as they try to replicate their success from last season, when they clinched a double with the Emperor's Cup after wrapping up the J1 title race in record time.

    "We've made a good start. Now we want to go on and show the strong play Frontale are capable of," Kobayashi said.

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