YOKOHAMA — A sharply taken sixth-minute goal by debutant Brazilian striker Will was enough to secure a 1-0 victory on Sunday for the Yokohama F. Marinos in their first game of the J. League season, against Urawa Red Diamonds, despite the dismissal of captain Naoki Matsuda in the first half.
Ignoring the traditionally vocal support of Urawa’s traveling fans in the International Stadium Yokohama, the Marinos started the game the brighter of the two teams and in only their second attack scored what turned out to be the decisive goal.
Urawa manager Hans Ooft later conceded that his team lost the game in the first 20 minutes, and it was sloppy defending that led to the goal.
A corner from the left should have been cleared off the line by the Reds, but the defender covering the near post, inexplicably failed to get airborne and the ball sailed past him, leaving Will — the scorer of 24 goals in just 26 J. League appearances before this game — the simplest of chances to head the ball past goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe.
“It took us too long to get organized and we let them play too much,” Ooft said after the game. “If an attack became dangerous, it was because of one of our own mispasses.”
Commendably, Urawa responded positively to the early setback, looking to play the dangerous-looking Emerson into space at every opportunity, but the attacks were deflected by a solid Yokohama defense, marshaled tightly — until his dismissal — by Matsuda.
Urawa’s best chance of the first half fell, predictably enough, to Emerson, who broke into the penalty area in the 25th minute and hit a thunderous shot that Tatsuya Enomoto in the Marinos goal looked to have got a hand to before it crashed off the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Emerson beat two defenders for pace before being sandwiched on the edge of the box, his appeal for a free-kick waved away by Swedish referee Leif Sundell.
Urawa grew into the game as the half wore on with short, controlled passes that too often were let down by a poor final pass. Yokohama was similarly restricted at the other end, its best opportunity a free-kick 10 meters outside the Urawa box that was dealt with competently by a solid defensive wall.
Emerson remained the fulcrum of the vast majority of Urawa attacks, although Masahiro Fukuda also went close in the 32nd minute, but was unable to connect with an inswinging cross from the left wing.
Urawa, missing Toshiyuki Abe and Brazilian striker Tuto, deserved something out of the half for its greater enterprise, and it looked as if the game could turn its way in the 43rd minute when Enomoto pulled off a brave save at the feet of Will, injuring himself in the process, and then Matsuda, adding to his reckless reputation, earned himself a second yellow card for a needless foul.
Despite Ooft’s animated encouragement from the touchline, Urawa was unable to capitalize on its numerical superiority before the break, although the Reds started the second half just as energetically.
As the game wore on, it became apparent that they could have benefited from the a player with the ability to run at defenders as they back off. Someone, say, like former Red Shinji Ono, now impressing with Feyenoord in Holland.
And despite bringing on strikers Tatsuya Tanaka, just 19, and Yuichiro Nagai for a pair of midfielders, Urawa was unable to make the extra man tell and breach the home side’s defenses.
The Marinos’ restricted themselves to occasional raids, increasingly content to clear their lines with thumping clearances deep into Reds territory and sitting back to await the next attack.
Urawa came closest to scoring in the 71st minute as Tanaka connected sweetly with an inswinging right-wing cross from Emerson after stealing a meter from his defender, only to see the ball crash against the post and rebound to safety. Holding his head in his hands, Tanaka summed up the Reds’ frustrating afternoon.
Two minutes into injury time, and after playing balls into the corner flags to use up precious seconds, the Marinos earned a free kick on the edge of Urawa’s penalty area, but the resulting shot was straight at the wall and a followup attack petered out.
That, however, proved to be enough and Urawa’s faithful fans were left contemplating a loss to start their season.
After the final whistle, Ooft said he was not worried about the inability of four forwards to create clear-cut chances for the team. “I would prefer to point out the positive points,” he said, saying the team’s running and positional play had been good and that “the team’s heart was in the right spot.”
“It was a dynamic game,” Marinos boss Sebastiao Lazaroni said. “Their passing was very good and we struggled to hold on sometimes after going down to 10 men, but (Yuji) Nakazawa put in a big performance along with Naza and Yasuhiro Hato.”
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