SAITAMA — Barcelona proved too strong for Urawa Reds in a friendly match at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Wednesday as the Spanish champion coasted to a 3-0 win.

With Barca missing superstars Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto’o, it was up to the team’s supporting cast members to entertain the 57,143-strong crowd.

And Deco and Henrik Larsson didn’t disappoint, with Deco’s midfield promptings and Larsson’s energetic and intelligent midfield play the highlights of the match.

Barca was in control throughout the game. Xavi opened the scoring in the 12th minute when he swept in a right-wing cross supplied by Gabri from 10 meters out.

In the 39th minute, Larsson made it two with an easy sidefoot shot. Deco slid the ball through to Ludovic Giuly on the right and the French international ignored the pleas for offside to fire in a cross for Larsson to convert.

Urawa’s offense was muted throughout, with the team’s first real chance coming on 73 minutes. But from just a few meters out Takuya Yokoyama hit the bar with a left-foot shot.

The third goal came from Larsson on 78 minutes. A wonderful cross from substitute Javito floated invitingly for the Swedish international and he made no mistake with his close-range header.

For man-of-the-match Larsson his brace was a return to form after a season blighted with injury.

“I think we played a very good game tonight,” the ex-Celtic player said. “We kept the ball very well and we scored three good goals.

“I was pleased to play at all this season. To be able to play two games in Japan. . . . knock on wood, I’m feeling good.”

Larsson nearly completed his hat trick with just under 10 minutes to go. With a hint of offside the 33-year-old was put clean through on goal and with just the ‘keeper to beat he stabbed the ball wide.

Rehak replaces Leao

KOBE (Kyodo) Vissel Kobe said Wednesday former coach Pavel Rehak will take over as manager of the J. League first-division side after Emerson Leao failed to save the club from languishing in the bottom of the league standings.

Rehak, who became the third manager in six months appointed by Kobe, joined the team for training the same day. The 41-year-old Czech served as the acting manager after Hideki Matsunaga was sacked one month into the season in April.

Former Brazil coach Leao replaced Matsunaga, who was sacked after a poor start to the new season, but was let go as Kobe remain the cellar-dwellers after one win, two losses and one draw in league matches and were knocked out in the group stage of the Nabisco Cup with four straight losses.

Fiorentina to visit Japan

Italian first-division club Fiorentina will travel to Japan to take part in friendlies against three J. League first-division clubs at the end of next month, organizers said Wednesday.

Fiorentina, the club of Japan midfielder Hidetoshi Nakata, will play Cerezo Osaka on July 28 at Nagai Stadium in Osaka before taking on Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Hiroshima Big Arch Stadium two days later and meeting Tokyo Verdy at Ajinomoto Stadium in Chofu, western Tokyo, on Aug. 1.

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