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Ugajin sends Reds to second consecutive triumph to start season

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Urawa Reds maintained their strong start to the new J.League season with a 1-0 win over Nagoya Grampus on Saturday.

Reds went into the match at Saitama Stadium having begun the campaign with a victory over champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima the previous weekend, and a goal from Tomoya Ugajin in the 54th minute was enough to make it two out of two for Mihailo Petrovic’s side.

The win means Urawa joins FC Tokyo, Yokohama F. Marinos and Cerezo Osaka as the only teams with perfect records after two rounds of the new season, and Petrovic can see his players’ confidence growing already.

“It wasn’t an easy game,” said the manager. “Nagoya was very aggressive from the start, pressuring us from the front, and we had to be careful in the first half. It was that kind of game, but I knew that over the 90 minutes it would be impossible for them to keep it up and that eventually we would be able to settle down.

“We were able to get the goal at the start of the second half, and from then on we continued to create chances. The fans made it a great atmosphere. We are very happy at the moment, and we want to give the fans even more to shout about.”

Grampus have managed to take only one point from two games after an opening-day 1-1 draw with Jubilo Iwata, and manager Dragan Stojkovic knows his team must improve.

“I think that in the first half we did a good job and they were far away from our goal, but to win the game first you have to score a goal,” said Stojkovic, who was missing star defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka through injury. “We were very far away from that because we didn’t have enough creativity from our offensive players. I knew that if we didn’t score today it would be difficult to escape defeat.

“It’s nothing new for us to have a bad start. We have to believe, we have to keep working and wait for a good result. The first win will be very important for the confidence.”

Reds barely allowed Grampus a touch in the opening 15 minutes, but when they did it almost resulted in a goal. Yoshizumi Ogawa stuck out a leg to intercept a slack pass in the Urawa box, only to see the ball hit the outside of the post and bobble out for a goal kick.

Tomoaki Makino and Yosuke Kashiwagi both went close as Urawa continued to press for an opener, but tension began to creep into the home side’s game as the minutes ticked by without a breakthrough.

When the goal finally came, it was worth the wait. Keita Suzuki drilled a pass through the middle for Shinzo Koroki to lay into the path of the onrushing Ugajin, and the 24-year-old met it with a sweet curling shot that nestled into the far corner of the net.

Mitsuru Nagata almost made it two only to see Grampus goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki parry his header with a brilliant reaction save, before Urawa’s Nobuhiro Kato denied Nikola Jakimovski at the other end with a similarly impressive flying leap.

But Nagoya failed to threaten Urawa’s goal as the home side ended the match comfortably in control, leaving Stojkovic casting envious glances at the opposition’s attacking options.

“It seems we are a little bit weak up front,” he said. “They had Koroki up front, who is not so strong physically, but he has a computer in his head. He is very intelligent. That is what we didn’t have today.”

Elsewhere in the J.League, Sanfrecce beat Albirex Niigata 2-1 to pick up their first three points of the season, while Kashima Antlers held off a late revival from Vegalta Sendai to win 3-2.

Kazuma Watanabe was on target twice as Tokyo beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-0, while Marquinhos took his scoring tally to five in two games with a hat trick in Marinos’ 5-0 drubbing of Shimizu S-Pulse.

Cerezo kept up their 100 percent record with a 2-1 victory over Ventforet Kofu, Omiya Ardija beat Jubilo 1-0, and promoted Oita Trinita claimed their first point after a 1-1 draw with Kawasaki Frontale.

In the day’s late game, Shonan Bellmare drew 1-1 with Sagan Tosu.