YOKOHAMA —Urawa Reds can now lay claim to the somewhat spurious title of the world’s third-best club.
The Reds beat Tunisia’s Etoile Sahel 4-2 on penalties in the third-place playoff at the Club World Cup on Sunday, with ‘keeper Ryota Tsuzuki the hero after saving Mejdi Traoui’s effort.
It was the ideal sendoff for Brazilian striker Washington, playing his last game for the club. He scored with two excellent headers in normal time before hammering home the first penalty.
“We wanted to finish on a high. The fans were expecting us to score goals and finish third,” said Washington, who will play in Brazil next season.
“It was nice to score two goals and finish on a positive note. The fans have been behind me all the way and I’ll never forget them.”
Yuki Abe, Yuichiro Nagai and Hajime Hosogai also scored their penalties, with Mohamed Ali Nafkha’s spot-kick hitting the post. Etoile had boldly brought on substitute ‘keeper Ahmed Jaouachi with seconds left before the shootout. It didn’t do any good, the ‘keeper getting his hand to just the one spot-kick.
Etoile took the lead at Nissan Stadium on four minutes with a penalty from Sabeur Frej before Washington’s goals on 35 and 70 minutes looked to have won it for Urawa. Amine Chermiti had other ideas, though, and stole in to equalize with 15 minutes left.
Urawa did well to recover after a disastrous start. The usually unflappable defender Keisuke Tsuboi flapped, misjudging a scissor-kick clearance, and Chermiti pounced before bearing down on goal, only to be brought down by the blundering Tsuboi.
The referee pointed to the spot, gave a yellow card to Tsuboi and Frej stepped up to side-foot the spot-kick home.
The Reds equalized when Takahito Soma, whose prowess down the left has garnered admiration from the likes of AC Milan’s Clarence Seedorf during the tournament, sent in a perfect deep cross from the left and Washington met it with a brilliant header that flew in.
Like he had done in the previous two games against Sepahan and Milan, Soma looked to be enjoying himself immensely down the left.
One minute he was foraging down the line and getting in an excellent cross, next he was pirouetting on the ball in the center of the pitch to escape the attention of two Etoile players.
It was great to watch — and further underlined the question of why Soma was used so sparingly by Holger Osieck this past season.
Washington nearly scored again five minutes after his opener. Nagai swept the ball back to the burly Brazilian, who spun around quickly — he usually turns like an oil tanker — and crashed a shot against the bar.
The Tunisians rarely enjoyed an attack in the first half, but with Tsuboi looking a little shaky and the defense missing the injured Marcus Tulio Tanaka, there was always hope.
Etoile went closest just before halftime and it was the first real test of FIFA’s new chip-in-ball goal line technology. Frej climbed well at the back post and saw his header bounce back off the post, on to Tsuzuki, back on to the post, on to Tsuzuki’s knee and finally into the ‘keeper’s hands.
But had the whole ball crossed the line? Replays proved inconclusive but the technology didn’t send a signal to the referee’s watch to say the ball had, so no goal was given.
Hopefully the machine was turned on.
Washington’s second was another excellent header. Nagai whipped in a free-kick from near the left byline and Washington timed his run perfectly to power the ball home.
An ecstatic Washington leaped over the barriers and toward the Urawa fans, tearing off his shirt and bowing in front of his adoring supporters.
Etoile’s Chermiti drew his side level five minutes later. The impressive 19-year-old caused panic in the Urawa defense as he chased a loose ball, beating Nene to it and then taking it past the leaden-footed Brazilian before falling and picking himself up in one movement to steal the ball from Tsuzuki’s hands and pass it into the net.
With no extra time, this one was going to penalties.