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Tanaka makes case for call-up

by James Mulligan

Tatsuya Tanaka did all he could to convince Japan coach Ivica Osim to pick him for the upcoming friendly against Cameroon with a blistering display for Urawa Reds in a 4-1 victory over Ventforet Kofu on Saturday evening that moved the defending champions to the top of the J. League.

News photoReds forward Tatsuya Tanaka (left) nets the first goal of the game in the first half against Ventforet
Kofu at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Saturday. Urawa won 4-1.
KYODO PHOTO

Osim was at Tokyo’s National Stadium primarily, rumor had it, to run the rule over the in-form Tanaka, and the pocket-sized striker didn’t disappoint with a ferocious attacking display book-ended by two well-taken goals.

The national team coach was expected to add more players to his squad for Wednesday’s friendly in Oita on Sunday. It would be a rather foolhardy decision to not pick Tanaka after he whirled like a dervish through the Kofu backline time and again.

Reds assistant coach Gert Engels believed Tanaka had done enough, pointing out the problems Japan faced in front of goal during the recent Asian Cup.

“I think he has a big chance,” said Engels when asked whether he thought Osim would pick Tanaka. “Especially considering the forward problem you could see during the Asian Cup.

“He is a different type of player (to what Japan have had). And tonight he scored. If he’s fit, he scores. If Osim was here and he didn’t score it may be different, but he did so this gives him a big chance.”

But the 24-year-old Tanaka was not the only one to impress for the Reds. Goals also came from forward partner Yuichiro Nagai and midfielder Keita Suzuki in the first half. Add Robson Ponte and that quartet caused no end of problems for a Kofu side that refused to bow down despite the superiority of Urawa.

The victory meant the Reds swapped places with Gamba Osaka at the top of the table, with Urawa on 46 points and Gamba one behind after its 1-1 draw at Yokohama FC.

In Tokyo, Tanaka was a purring blur of movement from the get-go and on seven minutes whipped a clever Suzuki pass past ‘keeper Tatsuya Tsuruta for his third league goal of the season.

The watching Osim couldn’t help but be impressed. Just before the half-hour mark, Tanaka again broke clear and fizzed a shot against the post from a tight angle with such speed that a replay was much welcomed to see which post the striker actually hit.

The Reds finally doubled the lead on 39 minutes when Tadaaki Hirakawa, always dangerous on the left, got to the byline and produced an exquisite cut back that allowed Nagai to prod into the net.

The third came momentarily. Another storming run by Tanaka opened up Kofu, the ball was cut back to Nagai before breaking for Suzuki, who produced a stretching half volley for his first league goal of the season.

Urawa’s awe-inspiring forward play may well have been a joy to behold, but Reds coach Holger Osieck, ever the pragmatist, was instead concentrating on the Reds’ periodic defensive foibles when Kofu threatened.

His frustrations reached boiling point at the start of the second half, when Urawa criminally allowed Kofu back into the game.

With a nonchalance permeating the defense, Ventforet midfielder Katsuya Ishihara was the given space to let go with a snap shot from the edge of the area that caught ‘keeper Ryota Tsuzuki half asleep.

Justifiably, Osieck was raging. Sans jacket, he was off the bench in an instant, berating his players for such an elementary mistake. The goal meant Kofu was briefly in the ascendancy. The Reds defended in a pell-mell fashion.

Luckily for Urawa, it didn’t last for long.

Just after the hour mark, on a rare break forward for Urawa up to that point in the second period, Hirakawa again showed his worth down the left before flashing in the ball across goal to the lurking Tanaka, who slid in to finish from close range.

Game over. And with the Tanaka’s work done, Osieck brought him off with 20 minutes to spare, to a deserved ovation from the red-clad fans.

And, hopefully, a waiting invitation from Osim to join the national team setup.