SAITAMA – Genki Haraguchi scored a late equalizer to force Bayern Munich-bound Takashi Usami to share the spotlight as Urawa Reds drew 1-1 with Gamba Osaka on Saturday night.
Nineteen-year-old Usami, who this week announced he will join the Bundesliga giants on a six-month loan from July 15, gave Gamba a 56th-minute lead at Saitama Stadium as Akira Nishino’s in-form side went in search of its fourth win in a row.
But Haraguchi salvaged a point for struggling Urawa with a thundering header 13 minutes from time, chalking up his fifth goal of the season and offering a reminder of his own enormous talent in the process.
“Usami and Haraguchi are surely both future leaders of Japanese football,” said Nishino. “They are both aware of each other and they influence each other. I could sense a very aggressive rivalry between them on the pitch. We are going to lose Usami but he has great potential and I want him to do very well.”
Urawa was unable to find a winner despite a furious late charge sparked by Haraguchi’s goal, but the effort alone was enough to satisfy manager Zeljko Petrovic.
“I’d like to ask you all to wait half an hour to give me time to calm down,” the Montenegrin joked after the game. “It was a great game. Gamba had the ball more in the first half but we were able to create bigger chances. In the second half they went 1-0 up, and then we started playing like Barcelona.
“We are in great physical condition and that allowed us to keep going and make 12 or 13 chances. It’s a shame that they didn’t go in, but the players showed a real samurai spirit tonight.”
Gamba’s Shoki Hirai and Urawa’s Tatsuya Tanaka both went close before Reds striker Kazuki Hara fizzed a volley past the post in the 11th minute, and Tanaka should have done better when he turned in the box and shot wide midway through the first half.
Reds redoubled their efforts after the interval, but Usami made the hosts pay for squandering further chances with the opening goal. Nobuhiro Kato stopped Lee Heun Ho’s initial effort as Gamba charged forward, but Usami was on hand to sweep home the rebound.
Petrovic rolled the dice with a series of attacking substitutions, and his reward came with Haraguchi’s equalizer in the 77th minute. Shunki Takahashi lofted a cross into the Gamba box, and the 20-year-old muscled Akira Kaji out of his path to plant his header past Yosuke Fujigaya.
Substitute Mazzolla had several chances to convert Urawa’s momentum into a late winner, but Nishino was happy to hear the final whistle before that could happen.
“From all the games we have played recently this was the one in which we looked heaviest,” the Gamba manager said. “The tempo was very poor, we were under a lot of pressure and we weren’t able to keep hold of the ball. We scored but we weren’t able to build on it, and I knew from then that it would be hard. Their substitutes were very aggressive, but we held them off and I think we have to be happy with a point.”
In the day’s other games, leaders Kashiwa Reysol slumped to a stunning 5-0 defeat at Cerezo Osaka, while Avispa Fukuoka beat Ventforet Kofu 1-0 to claim their first win in 14 games this season.
Vegalta Sendai and Nagoya Grampus drew 1-1, Albirex Niigata beat Montedio Yamagata 2-0, and Kashima Antlers drew 0-0 with Shimizu S-Pulse