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Yamada boosts Reds’ championship aspirations

by James Mulligan

Urawa Reds moved closer to their first-ever J. League title with a 1-0 win against Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday, as championship rivals Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale both lost.

News photoReds midfielder Nobuhisa Yamada strikes a goal in the 34th minute against Yokohama F. Marinos in front
of 52,582 spectators at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday. The league-leading Urawa won 1-0.
KYODO PHOTO

Nobuhisa Yamada’s 34th minute strike at Saitama Stadium gave Guido Buchwald’s men the three valuable points that moved the Reds six-points clear at the top of the table with 65, with four games to go.

Gamba lost 3-1 away to Kashima Antlers to stay on 59, while Frontale sits one point further back after letting slip a 3-1 halftime lead to lose 5-4 away to FC Tokyo.

“We changed things around today but it proved to be a very difficult game,” Reds boss Buchwald said. “Marinos was playing some very good football.

“(Yuichiro) Nagai (and) Robby (Robson Ponte) found some openings with some good passes and combinations, but we couldn’t find the breakthrough to score another goal.”

A mammoth 52,582 crowd braved a bracing tang in the Saitama air to see whether the Reds could distance themselves from the chasing teams.

Urawa’s stuttering start — the Reds hardly ever start brightly in Saitama — suggested it was going to be a frustrating afternoon for the fans — and Buchwald.

The German’s plan seemingly revolved around the ball being fed to Nagai, who was hugging the right touchline, but Urawa’s natural propensity to go through the middle in search of Washington was proving difficult to change.

Buchwald was apoplectic on the touchline at Nagai’s lack of service and stalked the technical box throughout the first half, pleading his players to switch play to the right.

The first time they did, they scored. Nagai gathered the ball on 34 minutes, flicked the ball to Ponte, who laid it on invitingly for an on-rushing Yamada to sweep the ball expertly past ‘keeper Tetsuya Enomoto.

Ten minutes later, again from the right, Reds nearly doubled their lead when Ponte floated a free-kick to Washington, but the Brazilian’s header arched just over the bar.

After a slow start, though, and a one-goal lead, the Reds were completely in control, with Yamada’s goal the fillip for the midfielder to produce a commanding performance for his team.

What little resistance a woeful Marinos brought to the game in the first 20 minutes slowly evaporated until, early in the second half, Urawa’s dominance was total.

The only notable players in the Yokohama blue were Ryuji Kawai and Koji Yamase, and that was just because they were booed every time they touched the ball for being ex-Urawa players.

Unforgiving to ex-stars they may be, but at this stage of the season the fans will accept any sort of performance from their own players if it means three points.

But for all Urawa’s possession, it didn’t disguise the fact that a better team than Marinos would have caused the home team problems.

Failure to kill off the game ensured some nervy moments in the final minutes, not least when Yamase spurned a glorious chance to make the Reds fans pay for the earlier abuse he received.

The Reds, though, did just enough to hold on and also look as though they have done just enough to give the fans their first-ever J1 championship.

Meanwhile in other games, Nabisco Cup winner JEF United Chiba continued to blow hot and cold by losing 3-1 at home to Albirex Niigata, while Jubilo Iwata downed Cerezo Osaka 3-2.

Nagoya Grampus Eight beat Oita Trinita 1-0, Sanfrecce Hiroshima won 2-0 away to Avispa Fukuoka, while Shimizu S-Pulse-Omiya Ardija and Kyoto Purple Sanga-Ventforet Kofu both finished 1-1.