Urawa Reds proved too strong for Gamba Osaka in the Xerox Super Cup on Saturday, beating the defending J. League champion 3-1 in the traditional season curtain raiser.
Emperor’s Cup holder Urawa went a goal behind early on at Tokyo’s National Stadium when defender Keisuke Tsuboi volleyed into his own net, but goals from Satoshi Horinouchi and Washington in the first half and a Robson Ponte effort in the second meant the Cup headed to Saitama.
Reds manager Guido Buchwald was pleased with what amounted to a dress rehearsal of the clash between the two in the league opener at Expo Stadium next Saturday.
“We attacked well, showed good technique and passing, especially in the first half an hour, and I thought it was a fair result in the end,” Buchwald told reporters.
“There were a lot of good points and some bad points, too. We dropped off in the second half and although the defenders did their job feel there is room for improvement in that aspect of our game.”
With Japan’s Feb. 28 friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina around the corner, Buchwald sprung a surprise by naming internationals Shinji Ono and Tsuboi in his starting lineup, even though both had to jet off after the game for the friendly in Germany. Counterpart Akira Nishino opted to keep Gamba internationals Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Akira Kaji on the bench.
Gamba took the lead in the third minute when Urawa’s Makoto Hasebe glanced a Fernandinho corner into the path of teammate Tsuboi, whose attempt at control ended up as a volley that carried into the net.
Although the goal didn’t silence the deafening Urawa fans, who made up the majority of the 35,674 crowd, those supporters returned to full voice seven minutes later when Horinouchi drew the Reds level, the 26-year-old heading in a Ponte free-kick from the left.
Two new Urawa signings combined to put Urawa ahead on 17 minutes. Former Feyenoord star Ono sent a delightful throughball into the path of ex-Tokyo Verdy striker Washington and the burly Brazilian calmly scored his first for the Reds.
The clever passing of midfielder Ono and forward Ponte, complemented by an energetic Nobuhisa Yamada gave Urawa a superiority in the center of the pitch and this translated into a third goal on 51 minutes.
Sustained pressure culminated in Ponte collecting a simple pass from Alessandro Santos and he picked his spot from the edge of the area, giving ‘keeper Yosuke Fujigaya no chance.
The elegant Ponte was without doubt the star of the show, but Buchwald choose to center his praise on Ono, who has battled back to something resembling full fitness and who is sure to help the Reds in their bid to improve on last season’s second place finish in the J. League.
“He didn’t play many games last season because of his injuries, but I am very satisfied with his performance today,” said Buchwald. “I think both Urawa and Japan can expect even better performances once he gets more games under his belt.”
The Gamba players, to their credit, worked hard for a way back into the game, but were too often let down with wayward finishing in the second half.
New striker Magno Alves, signed from Oita Trinita to fill some of the gap left by the departure of prolific strike duo Araujo and Masashi Oguro, was guilty of spurning a number of chances in the second half.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t make the most our chances but our front line has changed since last year and there are things that we need to work on and it’s going to take a bit of time,” Gamba coach Akira Nishino said.
“I am very disappointed, but we played better football than I expected. Overall, I think we controlled over half the game.”
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