SAITAMA — Urawa Reds missed out on the chance to move three points clear at the top of the table on Sunday after a 0-0 draw against Nagoya Grampus Eight at Saitama Stadium.

News photo
Urawa Defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka (4) battles Nagoya Grampus Eight goalkeeper
Eiji Kawashima for the ball during their scoreless draw at Saitama Stadium.

The Reds went close a number of times, but Nagoya’s ultra-negative tactics made it difficult for them, and Keisuke Honda nearly stole a win for the visitors on 80 minutes but fired wide with the goal at his mercy.

“We had five or six good chances to score,” Reds coach Guido Buchwald said.

“But the football Nagoya played was very defensive, very negative,” Buchwald said. “They sometimes had eight or nine men behind the ball.

“It wasn’t frustrating for us today — you can’t win every game — but the football they played was frustrating to watch.”

Refreshingly, Nagoya coach Sef Vergoossen said his players were guilty as charged.

“It took us about an hour to start playing football,” the Dutchman said. “In my opinion, there was perhaps too much defending from our players.”

Urawa remains unbeaten and has 14 points from 6 games, one point clear of Gamba Osaka, Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashima Antlers.

Antlers moved into fourth spot in one of the day’s other games as first-half goals from Daiki Iwamasa and Mitsuo Ogasawara gave them a 2-1 victory over visiting Omiya Ardija, while Kawasaki Frontale dropped to fifth after a 2-2 draw with JEF United Chiba.

In Saitama, a scrappy first half in front of 44,625 fans saw Urawa enjoy the majority of possession, and it carved out a number of chances, while Nagoya’s attacking threat was muted.

Grampus Eight forward Keiji Tamada was perhaps feeling the effects of Thursday’s international against Ecuador.

Keisuke Tsuboi and Alex Santos looked to be tired, too, both coming off excellent performances against the South Americans. It was the other way around for Shinji Ono, who was out of sorts on Thursday but looked lively in midfield Sunday.

“I was tempted to rest Ono because he played in the international on Thursday, but not Tsuboi or Alex,” Buchwald said. “They have both been in top form.”

Ono missed a gilt-edged chance to put Urawa ahead on 18 minutes, blasting over the bar from point-blank range after a cross from Robson Ponte.

Ten minutes later, a flurry of staccato touches between Ponte and Washington ended with a ricochet off Ponte that nearly went in.

Washington, who celebrated his 31st birthday on April 1, showed he was no fool a little later with a clever back heel that fell for Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who saw his shot well saved.

Makoto Hasebe, quiet throughout by his recently elevated standards, thought he had given Reds the lead on 38 minutes, but his deflected strike was ruled out for offside.

Urawa had another goal disallowed after the break when Tulio diverted a Ponte shot from the edge of the area past Eiji Kawashima with a header, but the central defender was one of three or four offside Reds players.

Nagoya briefly threatened at the beginning of the second period but couldn’t convert increased possession into any clear cut chances.

The Reds came back and, as the falling rain made for a slicker surface, started trying their luck from distance.

Skidded drives from Santos and Washington brought saves from Kawashima before a Hasebe shot whistled past the post, but the Reds players soon began to fade.

“We’ve had something like five games in 15 days and around 65 to 70 minutes the players started to get tired,” Buchwald said.

Nagoya exploited Urawa’s weariness and had a chance to steal all three points with its sole chance of the game on 80 minutes, when Tamada broke down the left to cross for Honda, but the midfielder inexplicably shot wide from 5 meters with just Ryota Tsuzuki to beat.

Elsewhere, Jubilo Iwata beat Oita Trinita 2-1 thanks to Sho Naruoka firing in the winner late, Kyoto Purple Sanga beat Avispa Fukuoka 2-1 because of Atsushi Mio’s score midway through the second, and Sanfrecce Hiroshima drew 1-1 with Albirex Niigata when Koji Morisaki converted a penalty kick in the 89th minute.

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