FUKUOKA – Urawa Reds underlined their title ambitions with a gritty 1-0 win away over Avispa Fukuoka in the J. League first division on Sunday.
Urawa was frustrated for long periods by defensive Fukuoka and looked to be on its way to a second straight goal-less draw until Marcus Tulio Tanaka popped up deep into second stoppage time to head home the winner.
“It’s not over until it’s over, and we kept plugging away until the death, so I’m really pleased,” said match-winner Tulio.
“We drew last week (against Nagoya Grampus Eight), so we badly wanted to win this game. We have fantastic support here. I’m satisfied, and I am sure our fans are satisfied, too.”
Urawa was unable to carve out any chances of note as Fukuoka defended stoutly in an untidy first half, but Brazilian-born winger Alex Santos went close to opening the scoring from a set piece shortly before the break.
Satoshi Nagano was booked for a rough challenge on Washington, and Santos brought a superb save out of Yuichi Mizutani from the ensuing free-kick.
Washington twice headed a couple of half chances wide after the break, but Urawa looked no closer to breaking the deadlock, and Guido Buchwald decided to take off the Brazilian and Robson Ponte and replace them with Teruaki Kurobe and veteran striker Masayuki Okano with six minutes remaining.
The move paid dividends when Okano swung over a cross from the right and Tanaka rose to power the ball past Mizutani to put Urawa back on top of the table.
“If we can keep chipping away and get through these difficult games, the path to the championship will start opening up for us,” said Tulio.
Urawa, the only unbeaten team in the division, improved to 17 points from seven games, one point clear of defending champion Gamba Osaka. Winless Fukuoka stayed third from bottom.
In the day’s other game, South Korean striker Cho Jae Jin took his tally for the season to five as Shimizu S-Pulse thrashed Oita Trinita, 4-1.
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