FUKUROI, SHIZUOKA PREF. – Former Arsenal and Sweden star Freddie Ljungberg made his first J. League start but it was Genki Omae that stole the headlines with the winner as Shimizu S-Pulse edged Urawa Reds 1-0 on Saturday.
Nursing a badly bruised toe, Ljungberg was unable to make much of an impact on a scrappy game at Ecopa Stadium but Omae struck the decider midway through the second half to snap S-Pulse’s four-game winless league run and pile more pressure on Reds boss Zeljko Petrovic in the process.
“I think it was a difficult match for both teams because it was the third game in a week and because of the condition of the ground,” said S-Pulse manager Afshin Ghotbi.
“It was just a moment of good individual action that one team could win the game and we had a great action from (Shinji) Tsujio on the right. He got himself free and he gave a very good final ball to Genki, who calmly put the ball in the back of the net.”
Urawa’s fourth league defeat in five games leaves the former J. League and Asian club champion hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Petrovic’s men are just seven points clear of third-from-bottom Ventforet Kofu, who were set to host Avispa Fukuoka in a relegation six-pointer later in the day.
“It’s a difficult question asking me what it is we have to do to win but if you look at the way we played we are creating chances,” said Petrovic. “However, we were found wanting in front of goal and the offensive players have to start showing a more ruthless streak.”
Chances were at a premium in a first half littered with fouls and errors, with both teams struggling to put together any fluid moves on a bumpy pitch.
Atomu Nabeta should have put Shimizu in front on 17 minutes but shot straight at Nobuhiro Kato, who produced a magnificent fingertip save to touch Calvin Jong-a-Pin’s effort over the bar on the half hour mark. Jong-a-Pin also went close with a shot that hit the post 10 minutes before the break.
Mazzolla was Urawa’s main threat going forward but the Brazilian lacked a decisive touch after making space for himself on a handful of occasions in the first period.
Shimizu made the breakthrough it just about deserved when Tsujio galloped down the right flank and cut the ball back for Omae to prod home in the 63rd minute.
“It was a really tough game but the team pulled together and I’m glad we won,” said Omae, who was on target in last week’s 2-1 defeat to local rivals Jubilo Iwata and also scored in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata in the second round of the Nabisco Cup.
Elsewhere, Junya Tanaka took his tally for the campaign to 12 as Kashiwa Reysol temporarily moved level on points with leader Gamba Osaka with a commanding 4-0 win at Vissel Kobe.
Kawasaki Frontale consigned their eight-match losing streak to the dustbin as Yu Kobayashi earned a 1-0 win at Montedio Yamagata, Ryang Yong Gi wrapped up a 2-0 win for Vegalta Sendai at home to Albirex Niigata, while Japan striker Tadanari Lee grabbed a brace as Sanfrecce Hiroshima won 3-1 against Jubilo Iwata at Big Arch.
Gamba travel to Yokohama F. Marinos for a top-of-the-table clash on Sunday.