SAITAMA – The Urawa Reds grabbed sole possession of first place in the J. League with a 1-0 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday.
New Japan national team manager Javier Aguirre attended his first J. League match at Saitama Stadium, where captain Yuki Abe scored the lone goal in the opening half for Urawa, which improved to 40 points from 20 games for a one-point lead over Kawasaki Frontale.
Frontale edged Cerezo Osaka in a 5-4 goalfest at home. Sanfrecce fell 10 points off the pace after dropping its second from the last three.
While he didn’t give out names, Aguirre said several players already caught his eye. The former Mexico coach will name his squad on Aug. 28 for his first game in charge on Sept. 5, a friendly in Sapporo against Uruguay followed by a match in Yokohama with Venezuela four days later.
“I was very impressed by what I saw from the game,” Aguirre said. “I thought both teams were very well organized. There were a few players who caught my eye and I’ve written their names down.”
Of the Reds and Sanfrecce players, only Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa and Hiroshima midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama made Alberto Zaccheroni’s cut for the World Cup in Brazil where Japan crashed out in the first round with two defeats and a goalless draw.
Aguirre did not think Saturday’s contest was soft by any means, contrary to the reputation the J. League has overseas.
“With my coaching staff, I plan on watching five, six games a week,” the former Atletico Madrid boss said. “It’s difficult to compare because the circumstances surrounding every league are different. But of the few games I’ve seen on film, I think it’s a competitive league and the standard is at a high level.”
“Tactically, technically, I saw a lot of good players but I’m not naming names right here and now. There wasn’t one foreign player in the game but I didn’t think anyone was soft.”
Reds defeated the two-time defending champions for the second time this season. They also beat Sanfrecce twice last season.
Urawa, which started the day tied on points and goal difference with Sagan Tosu, had seized the matchup the last four times in the league and moved to make it five in the 22nd minute through Abe’s third goal of the season.
Shinzo Koroki won a free kick just outside the box which Yosuke Kashiwagi curled off the right post. Abe beat everyone to the rebound and with goalkeeper Takuya Masuda slow to react, hit into the back of the net with ease to push Reds in front.
Hiroshima badly missed its captain and top scorer Hisato Sato as it barely threatened the hosts, who could have added to the damage with both Tsukasa Umesaki and Tadanari Lee buzzing the woodwork from the edge of the area in the second half.
Asian Cup winner Kashiwagi said he wasn’t necessarily playing to catch Aguirre’s eye.
“I tried not to think about it,” said Kashiwagi, who was a frequent call-up of Zaccheroni early in the Italian’s reign.
“The best way to make it back (into the national team) is to perform for your club, which is what I’ll concentrate on.”
Elsewhere in J1, Kengo Kawamata came off the bench midway through the second half to make his Nagoya debut in Grampus’ 1-0 away win to Gamba Osaka.
Tosu lost 2-0 at home to FC Tokyo to slip to third while Antlers held on to Gaku Shibasaki’s first-minute goal for a 1-0 win against Ventforet Kofu in Kashima.
Vegalta defeated Shimizu S-Pulse 3-2 in Sendai, Kashiwa Reysol won 2-0 over Vissel Kobe at home and Albirex Niigata held off Omiya Ardija 2-1 at the Big Swan.
Yokohama F. Marinos thrashed Tokushima Vortis 3-0 away.