SAITAMA – Teenager Takahiro Sekine scored seven minutes after coming on as a substitute to send Urawa Reds into the J. League summer break on top of the table after a 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka on Saturday.
A crowd of 54,350 showed up at Saitama Stadium to watch high-flying Urawa take on a Cerezo side featuring World Cup-bound Japan internationals Yoichiro Kakitani and Hotaru Yamaguchi, plus Uruguay’s Diego Forlan, but instead it was 19-year-old Sekine who stole the show with his first career goal in the 77th minute.
The win sent Reds one point clear at the top of the table after previous leaders Sagan Tosu drew 1-1 with Omiya Ardija, and Sekine was pleased to play his part before the league shuts down for the World Cup break.
“I got a great pass and I was wondering whether to control it or shoot,” said Sekine, who is a product of Urawa’s youth system. “My shot wasn’t particularly strong and I didn’t think it would go in, but thankfully it did.
“I’ve never even scored with a shot like that in training, so it’s great to actually score one in a game.”
Reds have had their problems in a season blighted by a racism scandal in March that saw their supporters banned for one game, but defender Daisuke Nasu believes things are coming together on the pitch.
“Our defensive awareness is getting better and we are all working hard as a team,” said the 32-year-old. “Every player is more conscious of the balance between attack and defense and risk management.
“Last year, when we were under pressure we were playing a lot of back passes, but we have learned to deal with that kind of situation much better now.”
Urawa created the best chances in a tight first half, with Tomoya Ugajin’s control letting him down when through on goal in the 11th minute and Genki Haraguchi firing wide minutes later.
Tomoaki Makino put in a perfectly timed tackle to dispossess Kakitani in the Urawa box as the first half drew to a close, and Yosuke Kashiwagi drilled a free kick just wide of the post at the other end as the second half got under way.
Kashiwagi was unlucky to see his delicately chipped shot rebound off the crossbar in the 57th minute, before Cerezo’s Takumi Minamino also went close after driving into the box and firing a shot wide of the post.
Minamino stung Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa’s palms as Cerezo threatened again on the counterattack, but the deadlock was finally broken when Sekine announced his arrival in spectacular style.
The substitute started the move by playing a deft 1-2 with Kashiwagi, then controlled the return pass before slotting it into the corner of the net with his left foot.
“We weren’t able to play the way we wanted in the first half, but in the second half we got it together and started to create some good chances. If we had taken them, it would have been a different game,” said Cerezo manager Ranko Popovic, who saw his side lose in the second round of the Asian Champions League to defending champions Guanzhou Evergrande on Tuesday.
“Playing in the ACL has had an effect on us. I don’t want to use that as an excuse, but that’s the way it is.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Ventforet Kofu stunned Kashiwa Reysol 3-0, while Shimizu S-Pulse drew 1-1 with Vissel Kobe and Albirex Niigata and Nagoya Grampus also played out a 1-1 draw.