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Bebeto misses Antlers' opening-day victory

By Jeremy Walker
Tokyo (March 12)

World Cup veteran Bebeto was left on the sidelines for the start of the new league season in Japan, but his club Kashima Antlers still began with a victory, 1-0 against Nagoya Grampus Eight on Saturday. The 36-year-old forward, who played alongside the legendary Romario in Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning team in the United States, had arrived in Japan on Monday and trained with his new team-mates for only four days.
Although he said he was fit and raring to go for the new season after being without a club for two months, Antlers manager Toninho Cerezo decided to give him another week to adapt to his team's playing style.
Consequently, Bebeto watched the game from the grandstand with his wife and three children, and hopes to be given a chance next Saturday when Antlers play away to Kawasaki Frontale.
"I was very satisfied with our first league game of the season," said Toninho. "The content of our play was very good in all areas of the pitch, and Bebeto knows he is going to have to work hard to get a place in a winning team."
The only goal of the game, watched by 30,794 fans at Tokyo's National Stadium, came after 11 minutes when Brazilian playmaker Bismarck curled a free-kick from the left wing to the far post, where midfielder Koji Nakata rose unchallenged to head home.
Elsewhere on the opening day, Jubilo Iwata began their defence of the league title with a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to Kashiwa Reysol, for whom striker Hideaki Kitajima scored in the second minute of sudden-death extra time.
Last year's runners-up, Shimizu S-Pulse, needed two penalties from midfield playmaker Masaaki Sawanobori to beat Cerezo Osaka 3-2 at home, the second one coming on the stroke of full-time.
The two clubs promoted to the first division last season had mixed fortunes.
Second division champions Kawasaki Frontale lost 2-1 away to Avispa Fukuoka and had one player sent off and three more booked, but FC Tokyo won 1-0 away to Yokohama F Marinos thanks to a penalty five minutes from full-time from Brazilian forward Tuto.
JEF United Ichihara's Brazilian forward Marcelo Baron scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 demolition of Kyoto Purple Sanga, and there were also opening-day wins for Vissel Kobe, 1-0 at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and for Verdy Kawasaki, who scored twice in the last seven minutes to beat visiting Gamba Osaka 2-1. Three points are awarded for a win inside 90 minutes, two for a win with a goal in sudden-death extra time, and both teams receive one point if the scores are level after 30 minutes of extra time.