KAWASAKI — A single moment of skill lit up an otherwise dreary game to give Urawa Reds a 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday.
With both sides struggling against wet conditions at Todoroki Stadium, Marcus Tulio Tanaka played a delightful back-heeled pass to striker Naohiro Takahara midway through the second half, forcing the scrambling Frontale defense to bring the former Eintracht Frankfurt man down for a penalty.
Brazilian Edmilson duly converted, and with a disallowed Hiroyuki Taniguchi equalizer one minute later taking the wind out of Frontale’s sails, Reds kept cool to claim an important win.
Frontale has hit form since manager Takashi Sekizuka stepped down due to illness a month ago, winning their last four matches and creeping up into third in the J. League table under replacement Tsutomu Takahata.
Reds manager Gert Engels was relieved his side stopped that streak in its tracks and consolidated its place at the top.
“It was a big game,” he said. “It was away and they had won four in a row, but we had almost the same results, and that is why there was no reason to be afraid.”
Kawasaki have a tough defense and they like to counterattack, so you have to use what few chances you have. I said it would take one highlight from one player, and that is what happened.”
Engels also paid tribute to Takahara’s persistence after a difficult start to the season.
“Takahara worked for 90 minutes in defense and offense,” he said. “Their defense always had one or two players more, but he didn’t give up, and that is how we scored.”
Takahata, on the other hand, had few complaints in defeat.
“It’s a disappointing result but I’m grateful to the players for the work they put in,” he said. “Urawa are a strong team and they held on to their lead extremely well.”
Tulio was lucky to escape punishment midway through a scrappy first half when he aimed a vicious elbow at Yusuke Igawa’s jaw while jostling for position at a Reds free-kick.
The incident looked worthy of a yellow card at the very least, but Tulio got his comeuppance soon after when a sliding tackle dumped the Japan international down on the shoulder he injured in Tuesday’s match against JEF United Chiba.
Juninho began to stretch the Urawa defense with a series of darting raids as the first half progressed, but with striker Chong Tese looking off-color, it was left to midfielder Taniguchi to create Frontale’s best chance.
The 22-year-old let fly with a fierce drive from outside the box in the 35th minute, but Reds ‘keeper Ryota Tsuzuki did well to deal with the ball as it took a difficult bounce in front of his diving body.
Chong headed well wide from a corner as the disjointed play continued into the second half, but it was Tulio’s touch of class that broke the deadlock minutes later. Edmilson coolly dispatched the resulting penalty, sending goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima the wrong way as he slotted the ball into the corner of the net.
Taniguchi thought he had brought the home side level within a minute, as he bundled in a rebound from Kazuhiro Murakami’s shot only to be greeted with the linesman’s flag as he ran to the touchline to celebrate with the crowd.
The decision looked marginal, and Taniguchi was again unlucky when his long-range shot slid just centimeters wide of the post with time ticking toward 90 minutes.
With the three points successfully in the bag, Engels allowed his thoughts after the match to turn toward the upcoming summer break.
Urawa has just one league match to play before the shutdown, and the German is looking forward to recharging his squad’s batteries before the business end of the season gets under way.