CHIBA — Seiichiro Maki is not going to give up on a World Cup place without a fight.
The JEF United Chiba striker sent another reminder to Zico that he should be in the squad for Germany with a stunning strike in a 2-0 win over Urawa Reds on Wednesday.
Maki latched on to a chested pass from Yuto Sato on 74 minutes and lashed in a low drive off the post in front of the national team coach at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
Koji Nakajima sealed the points in injury time when JEF broke after period of Reds pressure, the substitute going it alone and smashing home from a tight angle.
The well-deserved win for Ivica Osim’s men moved them up to fifth in the J. League standings on 19 points from 11 games.
Urawa dropped to second on 23 points, with Kawasaki Frontale leapfrogging them, Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka into top position on 24 points after their 2-1 win away to Avispa Fukuoka.
In other games, Kashima Antlers lost 1-0 to Oita Trinita, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Cerezo Osaka 1-0, while FC Tokyo won 3-1 against Ventforet Kofu. Nagoya Grampus Eight drew 1-1 with Yokohama F. Marinos in Wednesday’s evening fixture.
Urawa has now lost two in three, and an early season wobble is in danger of turning into a mini-crisis for Guido Buchwald’s title favorites.
Ivica Osim pinpointed the Reds problems.
“Urawa played well, but they are their own worst enemy,” Osim said. “They have a great manager and team and the other J. League teams raise their game because of that, and if Urawa can’t give 100 percent every time it will always be tough for them.”
Reds boss Buchwald admitted his side wasn’t 100 percent. “JEF were always first to the ball in the first half and there were always two men pressuring our players,” he said.
Even without Maki’s crackerjack strike the 25-year-old should have made Zico sit up and take notice, his performance brimming with neat touches, turns and intelligent running off the ball.
His chances of a place in the final 23-man squad are slim, but if he keeps scoring goals like Wednesday’s — and the other fringe forwards and Zico’s misfiring favorites don’t — then he has an outside chance of being Zico’s “fifth” striker.
Not that Maki was going to take the credit for his performance.
“Today it was more important for the team to win than my goal,” Maki said.
The first half belonged to Maki and JEF, with the home side getting the ball in the net twice inside the first 20 minutes, offside ruling out both.
The first legitimate chance of the game came on 40 minutes when JEF’s Sato dug out a cross from the right which Maki met with a firm header, but Norihiro Yamagishi leaped superbly to tip the ball around the post.
Yamagishi was playing only his second league game of the season in the Urawa goal, in place of the injured Ryota Tsuzuki.
Reds first chance didn’t arrive until the 40th minute. Robson Ponte broke well on the left and found Washington, who unleashed a rising shot from 25 meters that Tomonori Tateishi did well to turn around the post.
Matters were more even early in the second half, with Urawa having more of an influence on events. Twenty minutes in to the second period, Robson Ponte brought down a high ball on the edge of the JEF area, but his weak lobbed effort was blocked by the advancing Tateishi.
Washington then couldn’t keep his header under control when he met a Robson Ponte corner, the Brazilian’s header sailing over the bar from close range.
Maki broke the deadlock with just over 25 minutes left to play, the JEF striker scoring past Yamagishi in spectacular style after Sato chested a Nebojsa Krupnikovic pass into his path.
JEF nearly made it 2-0 soon after when a marauding run from Ilian Stoyanov ended with him swapping passes with Naotake Hanyu, but the Bulgarian blazed the ball over the bar.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka then had a chance to level things for the Reds when met a cross from Shinji Ono, but his tame shot was gratefully gathered by Tateishi.
Urawa was made to pay for its second-half profligacy when Nakajima broke clear in injury time, exposing a Reds defense caught pressing for an equalizer. With JEF’s forward players leisurely making their way up field in support, the substitute midfielder hesitated before bearing down on goal, but there was no indecision about his finish.
Elsewhere, Kyoto Purple Sanga drew 1-1 with Albirex Niigata and Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Omiya Ardija 1-0.
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