A late goal from Keisuke Ota gave Kashiwa Reysol a well-deserved 2-1 win over Urawa Reds on Saturday as the J. League returned from its summer break in explosive style.
Reds manager Gert Engels fielded his strongest team for the first time this season as Robson Ponte and Alessandro Santos returned from long injury layoffs, but Tadanari Lee gave Kashiwa the lead with a well-taken goal on the half-hour mark.
Urawa looked off the pace as a lively Reysol threatened to score more at National Stadium, but Yuki Abe equalized with a header direct from a free-kick midway through the second half.
Both sides went in search of a winner in a match played at a ferocious tempo, and Reysol got its reward when Brazilian Franca, also returning after injury, pounced and set up Ota in the 85th minute to consign the inconsistent league-leading Reds to another defeat.
Engels pointed the finger at his own side’s mistakes.
“Our loose balls were awful, terrible,” he said.
“We have had these games quite often, and we have got to concentrate on winning. We need to stop making mistakes in our own half.
“I think it is a mental problem. We have got to play simple. Even if our policy is to pass the ball, sometimes we have to clear it and play long balls.”
Kashiwa manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki was happy with the outcome of a match that had been on his mind for a while.
“We knew we were going to restart with a game against Reds, so we practiced especially for this match,” he said.
“Reds are always dangerous, but in the end it was Franca’s through-ball that produced the crucial pass. Now I want to play that kind of soccer when Franca isn’t there.”
Both sides looked rusty as the match began, and it wasn’t until the 14th minute that either team got the slightest sniff of a scoring chance as Edmilson narrowly failed to get on the end of a Ponte free-kick.
Ponte seemed to be gradually feeling his way back into action, covering little ground as he limited himself to flicks and passes whenever the ball came his way.
With Urawa’s most potent creative weapon marginalized, Kashiwa took advantage. First Lee made a dangerous burst into the box after 24 minutes, before Yohei Kurakawa thumped a shot from outside the box against the post.
Reysol’s momentum was growing, and minutes later Lee put the home side in front. Latching onto a through-ball from Alex, the Olympic-team striker coolly rounded goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki before controlling the ball and guiding it into the net from a tight angle.
The goal stung Reds into action, and Reysol ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno had to be sharp to turn a Naohiro Takahara shot past the post minutes after the restart.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka maintained the tempo as he forced a fine save from Sugeno immediately after halftime, and Takahara wasted another opportunity as he blazed over the bar with Ponte in a better position to score.
But for all the scoring chances both sides carved out, it was one of the easiest that gave Reds the equalizer. Ponte swung a free-kick from a wide position into the Reysol box, and Abe rose unchallenged to plant his header into the back of the net.
Popo drew another great save from Tsuzuki as Reysol tried to regain the lead, and Ota rattled the woodwork again from the resulting corner. Urawa also threatened as substitutes Takahito Soma, Yuichiro Nagai and Tsukasa Umesaki gave the visitors a different attacking dimension, but there was still time for Reysol to notch a late winner.
Ota controlled Franca’s pass racing into the box on the right, before switching the ball onto his left foot and sliding it past Tsuzuki to cap a hard night’s work and three well-deserved points.
Reigning J. League champion Kashima Antlers defeated rival Nagoya Grampus 4-0 on Saturday.
Despite its aforementioned loss, Urawa (26 points) remained top of the table on goal difference. Kashima (25) went third and Kashiwa (23) moved into fourth.
Goals from Marquinhos (twice), Mistuo Ogasawara and Danilo saw reigning league champions Kashima outclass Nagoya at Mizuho Stadium, while a Denis Marques brace saw Omiya Ardija see off visiting Tokyo Verdy 2-0.