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Urawa beats Omiya as home fans return

Kyodo

Out-of-favor Japan international Tadanari Lee scored his first goal in Urawa colors as Reds welcomed back their supporters with a 2-1 victory over derby rivals Omiya Ardija in the Nabisco Cup on Wednesday.

Winter signing Lee netted midway through the opening half and set up Takuya Aoki’s late winner for Urawa, which won at home for the first time since October before a crowd of 20,697 at Saitama Stadium.

Koji Hashimoto scored in the first half for Omiya.

“It makes a huge difference, needless to say,” said Lee, who has a good chance of being named Thursday to the national team’s upcoming mini-camp for domestic-based players. “It’s just so nice to be able to share the win with your fans again.

“It probably had something to do with this being the first match after the empty-stadium game, but we had more than 20,000 here tonight for the Nabisco Cup. That’s unheard of.”

The fans were back at Saitama after Reds held their last home game in the J. League on March 23 against Shimizu S-Pulse behind closed doors, as punishment for a racist banner draped at the stadium during a game against Sagan Tosu earlier in the month.

Urawa has banned signs of all shape and form by their fans for the foreseeable future, and not one was spotted on this night.

Reds president Keizo Fuchita apologized to the crowd in a pre-game address, saying, “We vow here and now to become reborn. We will stamp out racism and discrimination.”

After the match, Fuchita said the club could introduce fully reserved seating in the future.

Lee, who has looked sharp when given a game this season, opened his Urawa account in the 16th minute from close range, after Kunimitsu Sekiguchi chested down a ball into the box from Shinzo Koroki.

Urawa’s lead vanished on the half-hour, however, when defender Mizuki Hamada gave away a free kick just outside the penalty area. Hashimoto hit the back of the net from 18 meters out, curling beautifully over the wall to make it 1-1 before the interval.

Lee failed to capitalize on a pair of excellent chances around the hour mark, but made up for the misses by setting up Aoki with a back heel in the 87th minute as the former Omiya man struck on the run.

“I’m so happy about this,” Lee said. “What’s important is that we won, that we didn’t settle for almost winning. Fair enough, we created enough chances it should have been 5-1, but what matters is we got the job done in the end.”

In other league cup action, Kashima Antlers defeated Tosu 3-1 at home, Shimizu edged Gamba Osaka 1-0 and Albirex produced a last-minute 3-3 draw with Nagoya Grampus in Niigata.

Vegalta Sendai are still searching for their first win across all competitions under Graham Arnold after being held to a 1-1 draw at home by FC Tokyo, and Ventforet drew by the same score with holders Kashiwa Reysol in Kofu.