SAITAMA — Urawa Reds coach Holger Osieck sees something in Yuichiro Nagai not many others do. His faith in the forward paid off Saturday when he crashed in a brilliant late goal to secure a 2-1 win over Yokohama FC as the new J. League season got underway.

News photo
Urawa Reds players acknowledge fans after edging Yokohama FC 2-1 at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday
in the J. League season opener.

The opposition wasn’t up to Gamba Osaka’s lofty standards, but the 4-0 cuffing Urawa suffered in last weekend’s Xerox Super Cup can be chalked down as an aberration after the league champions impressed in front of 57,188 fans at Saitama Stadium.

For all their dominance, though, the reward for the Reds’ endeavors in the first half was an own goal from Yokohama defender Takumi Wada, canceled out by a brilliant strike on the stroke of halftime by Tatsuhiko Kubo.

It wasn’t until five minutes to go that the Reds could rest easy, Nagai exploding to life on the edge of the area, bamboozling Wada with a nutmeg and crashing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.

“Overall I thought we did well,” said Nagai. “I was looking forward to the game more than thinking about pressure. I didn’t see so much of the ball but I was able to produce results, so I was pleased.”

Osieck last week singled out Nagai as one of the players the German coach had been impressed by, even though the striker’s lack of goals means he is not everyone’s cup of tea. The German clearly couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss what others think.

“I’m pleased, not only with his goal but also with his movement off the ball. He made a big contribution and the goal was a result of this effort,” Osieck said.

“We knew Yokohama were going to put emphasis on defending and we were expecting a tough game but in the end we were able to see our game plan through.

“I told the players it would be difficult but it was important we attacked but kept our composure. The players gave their all in trying to find the second goal.”

Apart from Yuki Abe, the Reds players who took the field may all have been from the Guido Buchwald era, but Osieck certainly stamped his own brand of tactics in this first league outing.

One tiny gripe with Urawa under Buchwald’s tutelage was the lack of width, even though the overwhelming strength of the team’s spine more than made up for its somewhat one-dimensional attack.

It was instantly obvious the Reds were intent on, at least for this game, stretching the opposition, with Nobuhisa Yamada and Takahito Soma hugging the right and left touchlines, respectively. Soma looked particularly dangerous when going forward.

Despite Urawa’s new-found width, the opener on 25 minutes came from a typical move down the middle, Washington showing his delicate side by flicking the ball with the outside of his foot into the path of Robson Ponte, whose shot was diverted into the net by Wada.

Urawa had the game by the scruff of the neck, with Yokohama pinned back for most of the first half.

If the visitors were to equalize, they would have to come up with something special.

That they did through new signing Kubo, the former Yokohama F. Marinos forward opening his account with a stunning 35-meter strike from the right that rocketed into the top corner.

The visitors had little other impact on a Reds defense marshaled superbly by Abe, the midfielder deputizing for the injured Marcus Tulio Tanaka.

Yokohama’s 37-year-old center-back Norio Omura was equally impressive, giving as good as he got against man-mountain Washington, but just as Yokohama’s first game in the top flight looked like it was going to end with a confidence-building point, Nagai struck.

The visitors had shown no signs of stage fright up to Nagai’s goal, but the white noise that greeted the winner would have put the shivers down anyone’s spine. Nagai had proved Osieck right in spectacular style. Breathtaking stuff.

Frontale victorious

Kyodo News

Magnum’s 22nd-minute goal was enough to give Kawasaki Frontale, last season’s runnerup, a 1-0 win over 10-man Kashima Antlers while Shimizu S-Pulse beat Vissel Kobe by the same scoreline, courtesy of a Naoaki Aoyama header.

Japan striker Hisato Sato scored a quickfire double and set up Ueslei for the second of his brace to lead Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a stylish 4-2 win away to FC Tokyo.

At Nissan Stadium, an early goal from Koji Yamase ensured a winning start for Yokohama F. Marinos although former Japan forward Takayuki Suzuki took the sheen off their 1-0 defeat of Ventforet Kofu after being sent off in the dying stages.

At Kyushu Oil Dome, Oita Trinita had Yuki Fukaya to thank for a late equalizer in the 1-1 draw at home to Albirex Niigata, who also finished their match with 10 men after Edmilson was given his marching orders a minute from time.

Gamba Osaka was also made to work hard for three points and had to wait until Bare opened his account in the 89th minute to give Akira Nishino’s men a 1-0 home win over Omiya Ardija.

Nagoya Grampus Eight welcomes JEF United Chiba and J1-returnees Kashiwa Reysol hosts Jubilo Iwata on Sunday.

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