SAITAMA – Urawa Reds brought Sanfrecce Hiroshima crashing back to earth with a 3-1 win over the J.League leaders on Saturday night.
Defending champions Sanfrecce went into the game at Saitama Stadium three points clear of second-place Omiya Ardija having won eight and drawn one of their previous nine matches, but goals from Shinzo Koroki and Genki Haraguchi sent fourth-place Urawa into halftime with a well-deserved two-goal lead.
Koroki added another to make the game safe in the 55th minute before Hiroki Mizumoto notched a consolation goal for Sanfrecce in injury time, as the leaders saw their cushion at the top slashed to one point with Yokohama F. Marinos jumping into second after a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare.
“We have to accept this result and get ready for the next game,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu. “But even though we were forced to chase the game, our team never fell to pieces and the players kept it up for the 90 minutes and got a goal back at the end. That’s the positive we can take into the next game.
“We didn’t start the game badly but we gave away an early goal from a free kick, and we didn’t start the second half badly either but we conceded an early goal there too. That was very damaging. If we had managed to respond either time by pulling a goal back straight away, it might have been a different story.”
Urawa moved into third with the victory, two points behind Sanfrecce, with Ardija falling to fourth after suffering their fourth-straight defeat — 1-0 away to Kashima Antlers.
“This was a game we really needed to win,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “If Sanfrecce had won, then a big gap would have opened up. I thought we could win, but I also don’t believe that many teams can beat Sanfrecce, so it was up to us.
“We played extremely well, but Sanfrecce are still the most complete team in the league. Even when they are one or two goals down they are very patient and always play their own game. We still don’t have that patience, and we have many areas where we need to mature.”
Reds wasted no time in drawing first blood, with Koroki notching the opening goal as early as the fifth minute. Yosuke Kashiwagi swung in a free kick from the left, and Koroki looped a header beyond the reach of ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa from a position more than 10 meters away from the goal.
Midway through the first half, Urawa made it two. Kashiwagi looked to have wasted the moment when he squared the ball to Koroki with only Nishikawa to beat in the 28th minute, but Haraguchi was on hand to sweep home the rebound when Mizumoto blocked Koroki’s effort off the line.
Yojiro Takahagi missed a good chance to reply for Sanfrecce immediately afterward, and the 27-year-old again tried his luck with a flying volley to begin the second half.
But the visitors’ hopes of clawing their way back into the game all but expired minutes later, as Koroki stretched to prod home a Tadaaki Hirakawa cross and put Reds comfortably on their way to victory.
Urawa goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato rubbed salt into the wounds with a fine reflex save to deny Hisato Sato, but although Mizumoto’s headed goal from an injury-time corner came too late to affect the result, Sanfrecce winger Mihael Mikic believes the champions are still in a strong position to defend their title.
“Maybe it’s better this happened now,” said the Croatian. “Now everyone mobilizes because we know we have five more games in August, and these games make the difference. We will give our best to try to win all five games. If we win all five games, then we can say we have one hand on the trophy.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, Masato Kudo was on target twice as Kashiwa Reysol beat Sagan Tosu 2-1, Vegalta Sendai downed Kawasaki Frontale 2-1, and a brace from Kazuma Watanabe helped FC Tokyo to a 2-0 win over Oita Trinita.
Nagoya Grampus made it four wins in a row with a 3-2 victory over Jubilo Iwata, struggling Ventforet Kofu picked up a 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka, and Albirex Niigata beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-1.