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Abe allows Reds to draw but Nagoya regains top

by Andrew Mckirdy

Yuki Abe salvaged a point for Urawa Reds with a goal deep into injury time to give his side an unlikely 1-1 draw with Tokyo Verdy on Wednesday.

Brazilian Diego gave Verdy the lead when he latched onto Masashi Oguro’s through-ball in the 50th minute, and the home side went close to scoring more as it assumed control of the match at Tokyo National Stadium.

But Reds, who had looked rattled by Verdy’s solid defending and fast counterattacking, somehow managed to dig deep for one final push as Abe headed in a cross from Takahito Soma in the 94th minute.

The draw was not enough for Reds to stay top of the J. League standings, however. A goal from Magnum and a brace from Keiji Tamada sent Nagoya Grampus back into first place after twice coming from behind to beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-2. Kashima Antlers leapfrogged Urawa into second on goal difference after a 2-1 victory at Vissel Kobe.

Urawa manager Gert Engels’ relief at Abe’s last-minute intervention soon gave way to frustration after the match.

“The late goal was a happy circumstance, but I am not happy with the result,” he said. “I was hoping it would come, but we must score earlier. We were too hectic today.”

The German was in no doubt where the fault lies.

“We have not enough goals from our strikers this season,” he said.

“I think even now they are not aware of the situation that teams play defensively against us. They have to keep the ball and play it back, or go 100 percent for the goal. We have 2 1/2 weeks off now, and that is what we will work on.”

Abe, back in midfield after a year and a half of playing in defense, looked instantly at home in the position in which he made his name at former club JEF United.

The 26-year-old’s tough tackling and willingness to drive forward helped Reds dictate the early rhythm, but it was the home team that came closest to opening the scoring when Kazunori Iio left defender Keisuke Tsuboi for dead before firing against the post.

With Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Hajime Hosogai showing the same direct attitude as Abe, Reds began the match looking more dynamic than they have for much of this season. But with Robson Ponte looking off-color as the link between midfield and attack, strikers Naohiro Takahara and Tatsuya Tanaka were left to forage for scraps in isolation.

Tulio nodded a corner onto the bar midway through the first half, but Verdy was proving a tough nut for Urawa to crack. Iio again went close from a corner, and only poor communication in attack was stopping Tokyo from making more decisive inroads.

Tanaka narrowly missed connecting with a Soma cross at the other end, and it was the last action the striker would see as Engels replaced Tanaka and Takahara with Yuichiro Nagai and Edmilson as the teams came out for the second half.

But for all of Urawa’s wealth of striking options, it was Verdy’s frontmen that drew first blood.

Oguro, angling for a callup to the national squad for next week’s World Cup-qualifier against Bahrain, released Diego into the box with a slide-rule pass. The Brazilian thumped the ball past Ryota Tsuzuki to silence the visiting supporters.

Mistakes began to creep into Urawa’s game as Tadaaki Hirakawa miscontrolled a harmless crossfield pass, in contrast to Verdy’s composure in snuffing out attacks and launching lightning-quick raids of its own.

But Abe somehow managed to bring Reds level after powering in his header, and an even later opportunity, this time for Diego at the other end, went begging as the match ended with honors even.

In the day’s other games, Tomokazu Myojin rescued a point for Gamba Osaka in a 3-3 draw with Consadole Sapporo, while Jubilo Iwata and JEF United drew 0-0 in a clash of teams haunted by the prospect of relegation for the first time.