SAITAMA – Urawa Reds saw their record run of clean sheets come to an end but stayed on top the J. League table after a 1-1 draw with Kashima Antlers on Saturday.
Reds went into the match at Saitama Stadium having gone a J. League-best-ever seven games without conceding a goal, and Shinzo Koroki gave the home side more to celebrate when he opened the scoring after a goalmouth scramble in the 20th minute.
But Gaku Shibasaki brought the run to a halt when he lashed home an equalizer in the 30th minute, breaching Urawa’s defense for the first time in 660 minutes of J. League action stretching back to April 26.
Second-place Sagan Tosu trimmed Urawa’s lead to two points after beating Cerezo Osaka 1-0, while Kawasaki Frontale stayed one point further behind after a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata.
“We all knew that we would concede a goal eventually,” said Urawa defender Tomoaki Makino. “The important thing is how you react to it.
“We are playing some tough teams in August, so it’s good to get this point tonight. We didn’t move the ball and build our attacks as well as we usually do.”
The J. League has returned from its two-month World Cup shutdown with three rounds of matches in the space of just over a week, and Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic believes the fierce summer heat is beginning to take its toll.
“In the middle of summer like this, it’s very difficult to play three games in quick succession, and you could see that at the end,” said the Serbian. “The players did very well considering the humidity. If we had scored a second goal tonight, things might have been different. But I’m happy with the way we played.”
Yosuke Kashiwagi was left holding his head in his hands after missing an easy chance to open the scoring in the 19th minute, but Koroki spared his teammate’s blushes a minute later. Ryota Moriwaki nudged on a ball that pinballed around the Kashima box, and Koroki stuck out a leg to prod it home.
Urawa’s lead lasted just 10 minutes after a Kashiwagi mistake in midfield gave Antlers the chance to counter. Shibasaki charged forward to receive a ball that Daisuke Nasu narrowly failed to cut out, and the midfielder thought momentarily about squaring a pass across the box before coming to his senses and smashing the ball into the roof of the net.
Kashiwagi missed another chance to restore Urawa’s lead minutes before halftime, and the game swung from end to end as both teams began the second half looking to take the initiative.
Makino denied Kashima substitute Taro Sugimoto with a perfectly timed tackle in the box in the 69th minute, before Urawa’s Kunimitsu Sekiguchi blazed over the crossbar at the other end.
Antlers striker Davi slashed a late shot over the bar when he had teammates in better positions, but Kashima manager Toninho Cerezo was satisfied to come away with a point.
“I think we could have done better defensively in the first half,” said Cerezo. “Our center backs are still inexperienced — only 19 and 21 — and it’s difficult to contain a clever, experienced player like Koroki. Even if you are experienced, it’s difficult to deal with him.
“In the second half we managed to get to grips with him more, but the damage was done in the first half. I think it’s a fair result.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, rock-bottom Tokushima Vortis beat Omiya Ardija 3-1 to pick up just their second victory of the season, while Shimizu S-Pulse won their first game in eight matches, 3-0 over Kashiwa Reysol.
Takashi Usami and Patric both scored twice as Gamba Osaka blasted Vissel Kobe 5-1, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Ventforet Kofu drew 1-1, while FC Tokyo hit the goal trail with a 3-0 win over Vegalta Sendai.
In the day’s other game, Nagoya Grampus and Yokohama F. Marinos drew 1-1.