Kashima Antlers saw off Changchun Yatai of China in the opener of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday with a solitary goal from skipper Koji Nakata.
The breakthrough came in the 42nd minute when Nakata, taking the armband in place of suspended Mitsuo Ogasawara, jumped to nod in from midfielder Takuya Nozawa's free kick.
"Nozawa gave me a really nice ball. I just touched the ball to go in. We can't afford to lose this home game, so I'm happy to gain three points from the win," said Nakata. "We are targeting to win the championship this season. Although our next game is away, I really want to be back home with a win."
Kashima held the initiative from the beginning, repeatedly breaking through from both sides, while Changchun failed to supply Costa Rican striker Johnny Woodly Lambert with a single decent cross.
Antlers defender Toru Araiba hit a long shot from the sideline, which Changchun goalkeeper An Qi managed to parry, then the ball hit the bar before bouncing back in the 14th minute.
In the 34th minute, Nakata's header went over the bar from a left corner, while Brazilian midfielder Fellype Gabriel's shot from close range was caught by the goalkeeper in the 39th minute.
Changchun started to put pressure on the Kashima defence line after the break with forward Liu Weidong replacing Lambert, but a couple of long shots by midfielder Wang Dong and forward Zhang Wenzhao failed to find the net. Midfielder Zhang Xiaofei found himself in the clear in the 71st minute but his sizzling shot went wide.
"We created many scoring chances. Our plan as a team was not to allow our opponents to play their game. We did it quite well. It gives us a lot of confidence," said Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswaldo Oliveira.
"We got off to a good start. It's tough to compete in the AFC Champions League. It's not easy to gain a win. Hopefully, more spectators will come to the stadium."
The four-team Group F also includes Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea and Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia.