Yokohama F.Marinos raised a few eyebrows this off-season when they introduced a new all pink away uniform. But last Saturday at Gamba Osaka’s brand new Suita Stadium, the pink only served to spotlight the two stars, one old and one brand new, of their impressive 2-1 win.
He maybe pushing up towards the mythically powerful “around 40” stage, but Shunsuke Nakamura provided a masterclass as a deep lying regista. He was always available to receive the ball and very rarely wasted it (with the standout exception of when he slipped while taking a free-kick and ballooned the ball over).
His first instinct on Saturday was to look wide, looking for Manabu Saito on the left or new signing Martinus on the right. Those two swapped with regularity, meaning that it was usually possible to find one of them because Gamba’s full backs were never sure who was coming their way and so tended to drop off.
The debut of Kayke, F.Marinos’ new Brazilian import, also helped by providing an athletic and mobile figurehead to occupy Gamba’s central defenders and to also keep the Osakans holding midfield pair of Yasuhito Endo and Yosuke Ideguchi looking around them.
Of course, the highlight reels will show that Nakamura’s main contribution to the game was his stunning 25 yard free-kick which leveled things up in the first half, and it is well worthy of your time.
But it was the calm, unruffled nature of his ball retention that helped sway the match in Marinos’ favour.
It isn’t a bad way to announce yourself as a new comer in Japan, scoring the winning goal at Gamba Osaka. Martinus provided Yokohama with an athletic, dynamic presence in the wide areas of midfield, something that previously only the diminutive Manabu Saito was giving them.
His pace and long strides gave Gamba plenty to think about, although those long legs got him into a spot of bother as he was clumsily booked in the first half. But those legs stretched with purpose in the second half, as laid the ball off to Saito, sprinted almost 60 yards to take the return pass and then coolly slotted past Higashiguchi in the Gamba goal to put his side 2-1 up, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
He seemed to tire late on, no surprise really. But while he was on the field he showed enough promise to give fans of the port city club optimism that they might have increased attacking verve this year.
Martinus with Kayke could be a very promising partnership going forward for Yokohama.