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Reds narrowly avoid defeat against FC Tokyo

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Urawa Reds salvaged a point but lost ground on J. League leaders Omiya Ardija after a 2-2 draw with FC Tokyo on Wednesday night.

Second-place Reds went into the match at Saitama Stadium knowing that a win would send them top if local rivals Ardija lost their game against Nagoya Grampus, but goals either side of halftime from Tokyo’s Hirotaka Mita and Ariajasuru Hasegawa left the home side staring down the barrel of a first defeat in seven matches instead.

Shinzo Koroki pulled one back in the 81st minute before Genki Haraguchi slammed home the equalizer to spare Urawa’s blushes five minutes later, but it was not enough to prevent Omiya from opening up a five-point gap at the top after goals from Milivoje Novakovic and Yu Hasegawa secured a 2-1 win over Grampus.

“From a very difficult situation the players showed their desire to turn it around and win the game,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “They gave it their all, and if we had had another five minutes then we might have got another goal. Tokyo are a very good team with a lot of talented individuals, and I don’t understand why they only have 20 points.

“In heat like this it is much easier to defend than to attack. Breaking down teams who come here to defend is not easy.”

Tokyo snapped a run of two straight defeats with the draw, but capital city manager Ranko Popovic was far from happy with the result.

“It was a great game, with high-quality technical play, but we have to be able to see leads like that through to the end,” said the Serbian. “I congratulate Urawa for coming back from 2-0 down, but this has been our weakness this season. It was an interesting game, but from our point of view I can’t be satisfied.”

Tokyo made an assertive start to the match, but it was carelessness from Urawa that gifted the visitors the opening goal. Mita ran at the Reds defense after Kazuma Watanabe had pounced on a loose pass from Keita Suzuki, and the 22-year-old was allowed to carry the ball all the way to the edge of the box before letting off a shot that found its way into the back of the net.

Watanabe went close to adding another shortly after the half-hour mark, before Koroki narrowly failed to connect with a Tomoaki Makino flick-on with the goal at his mercy minutes before halftime.

Hasegawa put Tokyo firmly in control in the 56th minute, rifling home after Mita had teed him up following an excellent run and cut-back from the right wing by the irrepresible Watanabe.

Urawa goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato then denied Watanabe with a diving save before Koroki cut Tokyo’s lead, clipping the ball across Shuichi Gonda after finding himself in space down the left.

Then Haraguchi grabbed the equalizer, making room for himself with a neat drag-back on the edge of the area before drilling home his shot with four minutes left on the clock.

“We have a young team, and we showed our inexperience tonight,” said Popovic. “We have to understand what it takes to win games like this. They are just small things, but they make all the difference.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Sanfrecce Hiroshima moved into third after a Hisato Sato hat trick inspired a 4-2 win over Kawasaki Frontale, dropping Yokohama F. Marinos to fourth after a 2-1 defeat to Cerezo Osaka.

Kashima Antlers came from behind to beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1, while Kashiwa Reysol also overcame a deficit to beat Shonan Bellmare 2-1.

London Olympic manager Takashi Sekizuka picked up his first win in charge of Jubilo Iwata — 2-1 over Albirex Niigata — Vegalta Sendai beat Oita Trinita 1-0, and in the day’s other game, two goals from Yohei Toyoda gave Sagan Tosu a 2-1 win over Ventforet Kofu.