SAITAMA – FC Tokyo prevented Urawa Reds from making serious headway at the top of the J. League table after clawing back a two-goal halftime deficit to claim a 2-2 draw on Saturday night.
Reds, still looking for their first piece of silverware since winning the Asian Champions League in 2007, went into the game three points behind leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Vegalta Sendai in third place, and goals from Tomoya Ugajin and Marcio Richardes took the home side into the interval firmly in the driver’s seat at Saitama Stadium.
But Kenta Mukuhara started the fightback for Tokyo when he pulled a goal back in the 60th minute, and Ariajasuru Hasegawa stunned the hosts with another 12 minutes later.
Sanfrecce lost 2-1 to Shimizu S-Pulse and Vegalta drew 2-2 with Yokohama F. Marinos to leave Reds ruing their failure to make up further ground at the top, but manager Mihailo Petrovic refused to dwell on the negatives after watching his team extend its unbeaten run to 11 games.
“The first half was very good, but then after the break we couldn’t keep up with them,” said Petrovic. “At 2-0 it is very dangerous and I told the players to try to get a third, but it didn’t happen.
“FC Tokyo are a very good team with a lot of players with first-division experience, and I am sure they will be up fighting near the top of the table. We haven’t lost for 11 games now, and that is not insignificant. The players have done very well to get to this point.”
Tokyo, on the other hand, went into the game having lost five of its previous seven league outings, and manager Ranko Popovic was happy to see his team refuse to accept another defeat.
“My players were excellent,” said Popovic. “They showed great courage in not giving up and coming back from two goals down. I’m very satisfied with their effort.
“We didn’t start badly, but we just couldn’t match their pace. We knew that Urawa were very strong on the counterattack, and before the game I told my team to be prepared to work hard and stick with them. We conceded two goals, but then after the break we were able to pass the ball around and play our football.”
Ugajin got the home side off to the perfect start in the 11th minute, crashing home a ferocious first-time shot from the edge of the area after the Tokyo defense had failed to clear its lines.
Sotan Tanabe and Kazuma Watanabe both went close to finding an equalizer as the visitors seized the initiative, but instead it was Reds who doubled their lead with a stylish, free-flowing move in the 35th minute. Keita Suzuki strode through a static Tokyo midfield before playing the ball in to Tsukasa Umesaki, and the winger slid it across the center for Marcio to apply the finishing touch.
It was no more than Urawa deserved after containing Tokyo throughout the opening 45 minutes, but the visitors were a different prospect after the break.
Mukuhara changed the complexion of the game when he slid home Naohiro Ishikawa’s cross on the hour mark, and Hasegawa almost grabbed another minutes later only to be denied by sharp reflexes from Urawa goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato.
But Hasegawa would not take no for an answer, pouncing for the equalizer as he burst through to meet Lucas’ low cross and pouring cold water on Urawa’s once-promising evening.
“The first half and the second half were like two different games,” said Suzuki. “In the second half our movement had to be better. But we made a lot of chances in the game, and we’re going in the right direction.”
Sanfrecce dropped to second in the table — one behind Vegalta and two ahead of Reds — after S-Pulse scored twice in the last 10 minutes to win at Big Arch.
Fourth-place Kashiwa Reysol drew 1-1 with Albirex Niigata, while Nagoya Grampus beat Vissel Kobe 5-1 — including four goals from former national team defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka — to move into fifth.
Cerezo Osaka moved out of the relegation zone with a 4-0 win over rock-bottom Consadole Sapporo, while struggling city rival Gamba Osaka beat Omiya Ardija 3-1.
In the day’s other games, Sagan Tosu beat Kashima Antlers 2-0, and Jubilo Iwata and Kawasaki Frontale drew 2-2.