- Associated Press - Saturday, March 10, 2012

SENDAI, JAPAN (AP) - Defender Taikai Uemoto scored in the second half on Saturday to lead Vegalta Sendai to an emotional 1-0 win over Kashima Antlers on the opening day of the 2012 J-League season.

Uemoto’s header in the 62nd minute secured victory for the hosts on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

“I felt there was a strong bond today between the players and the supporters,” Vegalta coach Makoto Teguramori said. “I think this win will make a lot of people happy.”

Vegalta’s home stadium sustained serious damage from the earthquake. The team was forced to train away from home before the 2011 season and its first home game was delayed for more than a month.

Saturday’s match was preceded by a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of one of Japan’s worst natural disasters.

Elsewhere, Josh Kennedy converted a penalty in the first half to lead Nagoya Grampus to a 1-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.

In other matches, Yoshito Okubo scored a pair of goals as Vissel Kobe beat Gamba Osaka 3-2. Hideo Hashimoto also scored for Vissel while Brazilian Rafinha scored both goals for Osaka.

Hisato Sato scored four minutes after the break as Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Urawa Reds 1-0. Consadole Sapporo and Jubilo Iwata drew 0-0 as did Cerezo Osaka and Sagan Tosu.

Kawasaki Frontale defeated Albirex Niigata 1-0 courtesy of Yuki Saneto’s 11th minute strike. Emperor’s Cup holders FC Tokyo beat Omiya Ardija 1-0.

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