J-League newboys Shonan Bellmare travel to Kashima Antlers in the early hours of Saturday morning (UK time) with both sides looking to bounce back from opening day defeats. Following their J-League 2 triumph last season, Shonan found their bubble burst on the first day of the season as Urawa Red Diamonds left the coast with a 1-3 victory.
Meanwhile, Kashima travelled to Shimuzu S-Pulse and lost by the same scoreline. In a season that the Antlers are dubbing ‘Rise to the Challenge’, that game showed a singular inability to do that. They will be looking to justify their status as one of the league favourites, as Shonan coach Cho KwiJea suggested in his pre-game press conference.
In truth, Antlers’ status amongst Japan’s elite is unquestionable and to face first Urawa and then Kashima in successive weeks is something of a baptism of fire for Bellmare in this shortened form of the J-League season.
Shimasaki (Getty) is capable of magic.
Since their defeat last week, Kashima have signed veteran Brazilian striker Juninho to boost their attack. He joins Caio and Davi as Brazilians in the squad – though the former failed to impress last week.
Gaku Shibasaki, meanwhile, remains the man most likely to pull a rabbit out of the hat from midfield, though he has yet to score this season.
With both teams yet to settle, this is a difficult match to call, but Kashima’s pedigree (they have yet to lose to Shonan, ever) should see them through.