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.
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.