SAITAMA – Albirex Niigata prevented Urawa Reds from making up ground on the J.League’s leading pack with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.
Reds went into the match at Saitama Stadium fourth in the table despite having taken only four points from their previous four games, and Marcio Richardes gave the home side hope of climbing higher with the opening goal in the 11th minute.
An equalizer from Albirex striker Bruno Lopes put the brakes on Urawa’s charge before the first half was out, however, and with none of the top-three teams winning their games on Saturday, Reds were left to rue the missed opportunity.
“We played well in the first half, so to come away with this result feels like a bit of a waste,” said Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino, who celebrated his 25th birthday the previous day. “We managed to create a lot of chances, but we just weren’t able to finish them off, which is disappointing.
“All the fans were wishing me happy birthday as we came to the stadium, and I really wanted to give them a present to say thanks. I was looking to score and for the team to take all three points, but it wasn’t to be and now the season goes on.”
Albirex frustrated the hosts with a rigidly defensive outlook in the first half, but it could have been a different story after the break had the visitors managed to put away their chances after coming out of their shell in search of a winner.
“It was always going to be difficult to come here and take three points against a difficult team like Urawa, but that was the objective,” said Albirex manager Hisashi Kurosaki, whose side began the day third from bottom. “We were looking to defend first of all and then link up with the attack, and although they scored first we were able to react well and get the equalizer.
“If we had been able to put away our chances, then we could have taken three points back to Niigata, but to get one point from a difficult place like this puts us in good stead for our next game.”
Reds caused Albirex all sorts of problems down the wings in the game’s early stages, and it was no surprise to see the opener coming from that supply line. Makino beat his man down the left to cut a cross low into the area, and Marcio found space to fire it past Masaaki Higashiguchi.
The home side lost right back Tadaaki Hirakawa to injury just three minutes later, however, and Albirex took advantage with an equalizer just before the half-hour mark. Urawa failed to clear a long throw, and Lopes pounced to send a curling ball into the far corner.
Marcio went close as Reds regained the upper hand for the remainder of the first half, but Albirex were a different proposition after the break, with Naoya Kikuchi missing the target after Lopes had put him clear with the goal at his mercy.
Yosuke Kashiwagi flashed a drive over the bar in response for Urawa, and Genki Haraguchi and Marcio also had chances as the home side began to turn the screw.
But Albirex always looked dangerous on the counter, and after Shoki Hirai fluffed an opportunity to snatch the winner, Urawa goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato had to be at full stretch to tip a Kenji Koyano piledriver over the bar in the final minutes.
“We played really well in the first half, and we should have put the game to bed then,” said Haraguchi. “They didn’t give us much space, but when you play against a team like that you have to think of a way to break through.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, leaders Vegalta Sendai drew 1-1 with Gamba Osaka, while Alex Brosque rescued a 1-1 draw for second-place Shimizu S-Pulse with a 96th-minute equalizer against Cerezo Osaka. Third-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima lost 3-1 to Yokohama F. Marinos despite scoring the opening goal.
FC Tokyo beat Consadole Sapporo 1-0 to keep the Hokkaido club rooted to the bottom, Jubilo Iwata heaped more misery on struggling Kashima Antlers with a 3-0 victory, and Sagan Tosu and Omiya Ardija played out a 1-1 draw.
Champions Kashiwa Reysol beat Kawasaki Frontale 2-0, and Keiji Tamada scored to give Nagoya Grampus a 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe.