Right-back Ken Matsubara curled in a stunning winner as Yokohama F Marinos grabbed a late 2-1 comeback win over promoted Tokyo Verdy on Sunday in their J-League first-division opener.

The rematch of the teams from Japan's first pro league match in May 1993 drew a crowd of 53,026 to Tokyo's National Stadium, where last season's runners-up repeated history by again overcoming an early deficit in a 2-1 victory.

Verdy won the first two J-League championships as Verdy Kawasaki in 1993 and 1994. Back in the top flight for the first time since 2008, they led until the 89th minute, only for Matsubara to leave them empty-handed.

Yokohama F Marinos' Ken Matsubara (L) scores the winner against Tokyo Verdy during the second half of a J-League first-division match at Tokyo's National Stadium on Feb. 25, 2024. (Kyodo)

"We had lots of attacking moments toward the end, and I wanted to shoot rather than pass in that situation. Luck was on my side with the goal," said Matsubara, who was born three months before the league's first season kicked off. "I'm really happy we had the same opening setup from 31 years ago and that we won it."

The match began in an electric atmosphere, and an early goal arrived after Verdy's third-minute long ball resulted in new Marinos keeper William Popp rushing out and seemingly touching the ball with his left arm outside the box.

The referee checked the pitch-side monitor and stood by his initial decision to show Popp just a yellow card for bringing down forward Yudai Kimura. But Marinos had no time to breathe as midfielder Fuki Yamada bent a superb seventh-minute free-kick into the net's near, top-right corner.

Sloppy Marinos defending allowed Itsuki Someno, Kimura and Yamada to all force crucial stops from Popp before Marinos finally had a shot on target in first-half stoppage time. Last season's joint top scorer, Anderson Lopes, stole the ball in the opposition's half before blasting straight at Verdy keeper Matheus from a distance.

Substitute Ryo Miyaichi thought he leveled for Marinos in the 62nd minute, only to be flagged offside. The former Arsenal winger narrowly missed Matsubara's inviting low cross at the far post two minutes later before Marinos eventually found the late leveler.

Verdy forward Keito Kawamura was penalized for blocking Marinos defender Taiki Watanabe's cross into the box with his hand. Lopes kept his cool and found the bottom left corner from the spot to seemingly secure his side a point before Matsubara seized the moment.

Receiving a cutback inside the box from right winger Yan Matheus, Matsubara struck the ball with his weaker left foot into the top far corner, sparking delirium among the visiting supporters.

As he had in 1993, the first J-League Chairman, Saburo Kawabuchi, preceded the match with an emotional speech.

Inaugural J-League Chairman Saburo Kawabuchi gives remarks ahead of a match between Tokyo Verdy and Yokohama F Marinos at Tokyo's National Stadium on Feb. 25, 2024. (Kyodo)

"The big dream I spoke of in that inaugural speech was to create clubs across Japan, where young and old can enjoy whatever sport they like," the 87-year-old Kawabuchi said. "Despite their time in J2, Verdy have been operating 16 different sports and are exemplary... Welcome back, Tokyo Verdy."

"Marinos are currently fighting in the Asian Champions League representing the J-League, and I'm truly hoping they can win it. And I'd like to ask for everyone's support for the J-League's further development."

The game also marked the league debut for Marinos manager Harry Kewell, whose first games in charge came this month in the ACL's round of 16.

In the day's other fixture, Kyoto Sanga secured a late 1-1 draw at Kashiwa Reysol.

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