SAITAMA – Oita Trinita frustrated Urawa Reds with a stifling defensive performance to earn a 0-0 draw and stay firmly in the J. League title hunt on Saturday.
The unfashionable Kyushu club, going into the match in unfamiliar territory in fourth place — just one point behind league-leading Nagoya Grampus — played for the draw from the first whistle and got it with a well-organized, gritty display at Saitama Stadium.
Oita even came closest to winning the match, hitting the post twice as Reds struggled to find the imagination to break the visitors down in front of an impatient crowd.
Manager Pericles Chamusca, who has also led his side to November’s Nabisco Cup final, made no apologies for the tactics that helped extend Oita’s unbeaten run to 15 games in all competitions.
“It was evenly balanced and I think we attacked more than Reds did,” he said, “and we managed to do this in Urawa in front of the Reds fans.
“This is a defensive system that is working very well, but it is not just defense. It is the friendship between players, the bonds, the communication between players and staff and the good atmosphere. The good communication that we have now is half of what good marking is about.
“We have got five matches in the league this month. We will know where we are and what we can aim for after those matches have been played. Today we made an important start.”
Given the close nature of this season’s title race, Urawa manager Gert Engels was philosophical about not taking all three points.
“I don’t know if we lost two points or won one,” he said. “They have a strong defense and play with discipline.
“They don’t play much soccer but they have the point they need. If we play a team with the same amount of points, a draw is possible, even at home. I can’t say this is a terrible loss.”
Both sets of players looked lethargic in the first afternoon kickoff since before the J. League summer break, but Yuki Abe sharpened the focus with a fierce drive that flew just past the post in the 17th minute.
The tempo soon slowed back to a crawl, however, and as a bad-tempered first half limped toward the interval, Naohiro Takahara wasted a rare opportunity to break the deadlock as his diving header flew wide of the target.
With Reds enjoying almost total possession, a defensive mixup between Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Keisuke Tsuboi almost gifted Trinita an unlikely lead on the stroke of halftime. The ball fell to Yasuhito Morishima, but the 20-year-old could not place his shot outside the reach of goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki.
As Oita’s spoiling tactics continued to smother Reds after the break, the visitors found the confidence to launch some raids of their own.
Ueslei went close with a shot before Takahito Soma replied at the other end for Urawa, and Trinita’s Morishima went agonizingly close with a glancing header that shaved the post in the 69th minute.
Engels brought on Nobuhisa Yamada for Robson Ponte as the Brazilian left the field in a fit of rage, and the change almost paid instant dividends as Tadaaki Hirakawa whipped a dangerous shot in on goal after a nice one-two with Takahara.
Oita’s Olympic goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa left the field on a stretcher with 10 minutes left to play, and the stage seemed set for one final Urawa onslaught.
But after holding its own for the previous 80 minutes, the Oita defense was not about to buckle at the death. Shingo Suzuki stung Tsuzuki’s palms with a free kick in injury time, before Ueslei cracked a shot against the post as Trinita finished the stronger of the two teams and took the point it deserved.
Former Japan striker Akinori Nishizawa was on target as Oita’s Nabisco Cup final opponent Shimizu S-Pulse swept aside bottom club Consadole Sapporo 3-1 on Saturday afternoon.
A last-minute own goal rescued a point for struggling Yokohama F. Marinos in a 1-1 draw at home to Vissel Kobe.
Jubilo Iwata remained firmly entrenched in the relegation quagmire after going down 2-0 away to Kyoto Sanga, while Shingo Takamine bagged his eighth and ninth goals of the season as FC Tokyo won 3-1 at home to Omiya Ardija.