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SAITAMA — Injury-jinxed midfielder Shinji Ono has given Guido Buchwald a boost by saying he is prepared to help Urawa Reds in their quest for the J. League title by starting games on the bench.

The stylish midfielder has suffered another frustrating season with injuries since his return to the Reds from Dutch club Feyenoord in January, and although Ono has appeared in 23 games this season, he has been limited to just 14 minutes playing time in the last four matches.

Ono is now battling a left ankle injury but the 27-year-old has told Reds boss Buchwald he still can play a vital role in the championship run-in if he starts games as a substitute.

“From now until the end of the season I think I will be playing from the bench,” Ono told The Japan Times after Reds training Wednesday.

“I don’t feel the injury that much, just a little bit of pain, but that’s why I can’t play from the start.”

Ono made a cameo appearance in last Sunday’s 2-1 win against Avispa Fukuoka, and Buchwald praised the midfielder for his commitment to the Reds’ cause at a vital stage in the season.

“He is a very important player but he is a little bit injured, which is a problem. I am happy, though, because he has said, ‘I want to play, I want to stay by the team, OK, I have a pain but I don’t need rest,’ ” the German coach said.

“He is prepared to sit on the bench if this is for the good of the team as he wants to do everything for the team in getting the championship.”

The Reds have seven games left this season and are five points ahead of Gamba Osaka and seven clear of Kawasaki Frontale at the top of the league.

They face third-place Frontale at Saitama Stadium on Saturday knowing a win will put the buffers on the team from Todoroki’s title challenge.

Ono hopes that next year he can finally escape once and for all from the injury nightmare that has haunted him for much of his career — and he has his fingers crossed he is able to do so in Saitama.

“I want to work hard at the end of this season and I can’t wait for next season,” Ono said.

“I don’t know but I hope I am still with Urawa. I can’t say any more than that.”

In Buchwald’s mind there is no doubt Ono is still a central figure in Urawa’s future plans, and he has backed him for a return to the national team next year.

Japan coach Ivica Osim has not selected Ono, who has 55 caps and has scored six goals for the national team, since taking over from Zico after the World Cup.

“Next season he will be important for us, I’m sure of that — he is one of the best players in Japan,” Buchwald said.

“I have spoken to Osim about Ono. I think when he is back playing well, he must be in the national team.”

English teams win

LONDON (AP) Defending champion Sevilla was held to a 0-0 draw by Slovan Liberec in its opening group game in the UEFA Cup on Thursday while English teams swept all three of their games.

Blackburn won 2-1 at Poland’s Wisla Krakow, Tottenham posted a 2-0 victory at Besiktas and Newcastle beat another Turkish club, Fenerbahce, 1-0.

Sevilla’s failure to win in the Czech Republic means that Louis van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar, which reached the semifinal two seasons ago, topped Group C by outplaying Belgium’s Braga 3-0 thanks to goals by Georgian striker Shota Arveladze, Danny Koevermans and Stijn Schaars.

David Bentley scored the winner with two minutes remaining to complete Blackburn’s rally in Krakow as Mark Hughes made a strong start in Group E.

Brad Friedel was powerless to stop a shot from Mauro Cantoro, which deflected off Rovers midfielder Tugay Kerimoglu.

After Robbie Savage equalized, Friedel thwarted Paulista before Bentley scored Blackburn’s winner.

The result put Rovers atop the group because Basel and Feyenoord drew 1-1.

Goals by Hossam Ghaly and Dimitar Berbatov paced Tottenham over Besiktas and put Martin Jol’s team atop Group B.

Club Brugge and Bayer Leverkusen drew 1-1.

Antoine Sibierski scored the only goal with 11 minutes to go as Newcastle edged Fenerbahce at St. James’ Park.

In the other game in Group H — the toughest of the eight — Palermo came from behind to win 2-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt with Italian World Cup player Cristian Zaccardo heading in the winner in the 87th minute.

Daniele Dessena and Igor Budan scored to lead Parma to a 2-1 win at Denmark’s Odense in Group D and push Parma to the top because of a 0-0 draw between Osasuna and Heerenveen.

Israel’s Maccabi Haifa took the Group A lead with a 3-1 victory over French club Auxerre with goals by Alain Masudi, Gustavo Boccoli and Roberto Colautti.

Rangers 3-2 victory at Italy’s Livorno included a spell of four goals in eight minutes in the first half.

Tim Matthys scored three times as Zulte Waregem won 4-1 at Austria Vienna to lead Group F.

Espanyol won 2-0 at Sparta Prague to move into second.

Panathinaikos beat Hapoel Tel Aviv 2-0 in Group G.

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