SAITAMA — Urawa Reds thrashed championship rival Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 on Sunday to move into first place in the J. League.
A win for either side at Saitama Stadium would have been enough to wrest top spot away from Shimizu S-Pulse, and the home team staked an early claim with two goals inside the first eight minutes from Hajime Hosogai and Tatsuya Tanaka.
Frontale captain Kengo Nakamura returned from a broken jaw to make his first league appearance of the season as a halftime substitute, but his attempts to inspire a comeback hit a brick wall when Reds goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi saved Renatinho’s 55th-minute penalty and Satoshi Horinouchi added a third for a hungry-looking Urawa.
“This was a very significant win for us today,” said Reds manager Volker Finke. “Today we saw that we are starting to realize our potential. We are working daily to build up our team spirit and confidence, and I think we saw that in today’s game.
“There are still many things to work on, but I think the team is moving in the right direction. It is growing, and I always had the feeling that the third goal was coming today.”
Hosogai lit the fuse for Urawa’s blistering start when he snapped up Hiroyuki Taniguchi’s wayward clearance on the edge of the box, chesting the ball down before rifling it past a flailing Eiji Kawashima.
If the goalkeeper was at fault for the opening goal, however, there was little he could do about the second. Tanaka played a one-two with Edmilson before surging deep into opposition territory, and with Frontale’s defenders standing off, the 27-year-old let fly with a booming left-foot shot that found its target in the top corner.
Masaru Kurotsu hit the post and Yusuke Igawa had a goal ruled out for offside as a shell-shocked Kawasaki staggered back into the game, but Yosuke Kashiwagi rattled Kawashima’s crossbar to serve warning that Reds had their sights trained on more.
Nakamura soon made his presence felt after the interval with a dangerous cross-field pass that found Chong Tese in the box, and referee Nobutsugu Murakami had no hesitation in pointing to the spot when the North Korean went down under Wilfried Sanou’s challenge. Renatinho completely fluffed his lines, however, prodding the rebound hopelessly over the bar after Yamagishi had saved his penalty.
Horinouchi instead showed the Brazilian how to capitalize on loose balls, following up Edmilson’s parried shot 15 minutes later to notch Urawa’s third of the afternoon and guarantee the points for Finke’s side.
“I knew it was going to be a hard, top-of-the-table clash, but we came here looking for the three points,” said Frontale manager Tsutomu Takahata. “Unfortunately the game was lost with those two early goals. If we could have got one back it would have changed the flow of the game, but we just couldn’t break down their defense.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Kashima Antlers’s stuttering form continued with a 0-0 draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, while Shinji Kagawa hit his second of the game in the fifth minute of injury time to give Cerezo Osaka a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare.
FRANKFURT (AP) Arjen Robben scored three goals and Bayern Munich routed Hannover 7-0 on Saturday to retain its Bundesliga lead.
Ivica Olic and Thomas Mueller scored two goals each as Bayern remained two points ahead of Schalke, which beat Borussia Moenchengladbach 3-1 to keep its title hopes alive. Ivan Rakitic scored twice for Schalke.
Bayern has 63 points and Schalke 61, with three rounds remaining.