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Reds rally past Antlers as J. League celebrates 20 years

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Shinzo Koroki punished his former teammates with a hotly disputed goal as Urawa Reds came from behind to beat Kashima Antlers 3-1 on Saturday night.

Koroki, who joined Urawa over the winter after eight years at fierce rival Kashima, gave the home side a 78th-minute lead after Daisuke Nasu had canceled out Takuya Nozawa’s opener, before substitute Tsukasa Umesaki made the game safe with a third in the 89th minute.

Two Antlers players were booked for protesting that Koroki’s goal was converted from an offside position, but the scorer himself was in no mood to complain after Urawa used the win to leapfrog Kashima into third in the J. League table.

“It was a lucky goal,” said Koroki. “Umesaki sent in a good cross, and I was determined to get on the end of it.

“Playing against Kashima tonight left me with mixed feelings. I really wanted to score, but the most important thing was for the team to win and get the three points. That we were able to do both makes me very happy.”

The game was chosen to commemorate the J. League’s 20th anniversary celebrations, but Kashima manager Toninho Cerezo was withering in his assessment of the match officials.

“A great game like this was proof that Japanese football has grown over the past 20 years, but it’s disappointing that the refereeing hasn’t improved at all,” said the Brazilian. “It’s at the same level it was 20 years ago.

“Anyone could see that their second goal was offside. The referee was not enforcing the rules and was letting himself be influenced by the home crowd. It was disappointing to have that in such a great game.”

The win moved Urawa one point ahead of Kashima into third in the table, but league-leaders Omiya Ardija saw their J. League unbeaten record of 21 straight games ended by a 2-1 defeat to Vegalta Sendai. Yokohama F. Marinos stayed second after beating Nagoya Grampus 2-1.

Daiki Iwamasa almost gave Antlers a 32nd-minute lead at Saitama Stadium only to send the ball over the crossbar when he connected from a free kick, and Davi and Yuya Osako also tried their luck as the visitors created the better chances in the first half.

Both teams continued to trade blows after the interval, but Kashima finally made the breakthrough in the 63rd minute. Gaku Shibasaki fed Nozawa after Urawa had given away the ball in its own half, and the 31-year-old was allowed to drift infield before beating Nobuhiro Kato with a curling left-foot shot.

Three minutes later, Reds were back on level terms. Yosuke Kashiwagi swung in a corner, and Nasu met it with a thumping header that goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata was powerless to keep out.

Nozawa almost caught Kato off-guard with a clever free kick in the 76th minute, but Koroki made his former teammates pay when he gave Reds the lead two minutes later. The striker glanced home a header from an Umesaki cross, and Davi and Mitsuo Ogasawara both went in the referee’s book for protesting the decision.

There was just enough time for Kato to deny Iwamasa with a brilliant late diving save, before Umesaki followed up to score Urawa’s third after Sogahata had denied Genki Haraguchi with one minute left on the clock.

“A game between these two teams was a fitting choice for the J. League’s 20th anniversary game, and it didn’t disappoint,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “We won the game, but Kashima could just as well have won it as well.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Kengo Kawamata scored a hat trick — taking his tally to five in three games — as Albirex Niigata beat Sagan Tosu 3-1, a Jorge Wagner goal gave Kashiwa Reysol a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata, and Yoshito Okubo scored twice in the final 17 minutes as Kawasaki Frontale came back to draw 2-2 with Cerezo Osaka.

Defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Oita Trinita 1-0, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Ventforet Kofu 2-0, and Shonan Bellmare picked up only their second win of the season, 3-2 over FC Tokyo.