SAITAMA — A late strike from Robson Ponte gave Urawa Reds a 2-1 victory over Jubilo Iwata in a pulsating game Saturday evening watched by 45,025 at Saitama Stadium.

News photoReds forward Washington, right, celebrates his game-tying goal on 40 minutes with teammate Robson Ponte
in Saturday’s game against Jubilo Iwata. Urawa won 2-1.

Ponte thrashed a shot into the roof of the net on 80 minutes for the come-from-behind win after Robert Cullen had opened the scoring for Jubilo on 33 minutes from close range and Washington equalized with a header on 40 minutes.

Reds moved up to fourth position, with 11 points from five matches, two points behind unlikely leader Kashiwa Reysol, and now seem to be kicking into gear after a somewhat sluggish start to the season.

“I’m sure you noticed, today’s game was very fiercely contested,” Reds coach Holger Osieck said in the press conference afterward. “Both teams played at a very fast pace.

“I am happy that the players accomplished what they set out to do. Both sides had the chance to win, and we just came out on top.” Jubilo deservedly went ahead just after the half-hour mark when Cullen got behind the Reds defense and finished emphatically from close range after a cross from Marquinhos.

But for all their possession, though, the visitors failed to carve out any other real scoring chances in the first half and were left to rue not taking further advantage when the going was good.

Urawa slowly crept back into the game, directly linked to the gradual emergence of Shinji Ono in the game as the standout midfield creator. The impish star nearly drew Urawa level with a sumptuous shot very shortly after the opening goal, his first-time, left-foot curler measured perfectly but kept out by a flying Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi.

Ono did help the home team draw level, though, when his delightful right-wing cross was met with a brilliant header by forward Washington, who got in front of Hideto Suzuki and guided the ball across and away from Kawaguchi.

Reds were now in the ascendancy, and but for the heroics of Kawaguchi could have gone in at the break leading. Captain Nobuhisa Yamada’s bouncing long-range effort was pushed around the post by Japan’s No. 1 before the ‘keeper flung himself at Washington’s boot, denying the Brazilian a certain goal but getting a boot to the head for his troubles. Kawaguchi was seeing stars for a few minutes after that.

Whereas the first half had two distinct periods of possession, first for Jubilo then for Urawa, the second was somewhat more fragmented, with neither team able to take the game by the scruff of the neck, at least at the beginning.

The first chance of the second period fell to Jubilo, when Yusuke Inuzuka climbed well for a header, only to see his effort cannon off the post. Ryota Tsuzuki was well beaten and didn’t know too much about where the rebound was going, but he eventually gratefully gathered the ball.

Yuki Abe then went close for Reds when he smashed a low shot from 30 meters that skidded just past the upright.

Minutes later, Yamada turned inside from the right and hit a left-foot shot that Kawaguchi was equal to, the ‘keeper turning around the post for what seemed like the umpteenth time. Ono was next to try his luck, his left-foot snap shot shaving the bar.

Jubilo then ventured forward and Yoshiaki Ota nearly scored a brilliant individual goal, the forward’s mazy run ending with his shot bouncing off the upright and fizzing across the face of the goal.

For a while, Jubilo looked the more threatening, but on 80 minutes the winner came. Ponte received a layoff from Yuichiro Nagai on the edge of the area, strode into the box and crashed a shot into the roof of the net. Even the stellar Kawaguchi, Jubilo’s standout performer, was unable to deal with the ferocity of the strike.

“I think we played well during the first half,” Jubilo coach Adilson said.

“We controlled the game and we seemed to know what we were doing.

“The reason Urawa scored in the second half had to do with the fact that my players were tired. Also during the second half Urawa were stronger going forward and were able to create more opportunities to score.”

Ueslei strikes winner

TOYOTA, Aichi Pref. (Kyodo) Brazilian striker Ueslei returned to haunt his former club with a brace as Sanfrecce Hiroshima ended Nagoya Grampus Eight’s perfect start to the season with a 3-2 win in the J. League first division on Saturday.

Gamba Osaka also saw their four-match winning streak from opening day snapped after the 2005 champions were held 2-2 at home to Kawasaki Frontale and promoted Kashiwa Reysol took full advantage to go top of the table after a 2-0 win at Yokohama F Marinos.

Nagoya began the day as leaders by virtue of a superior goal difference and they got off on the right foot when Kei Yamaguchi opened the scoring with a 23rd-minute effort at Toyota Stadium.

But Ueslei, a smash hit at Nagoya before criticism of then manager Nelsinho and the club paved the way for his departure in 2005, soon headed the visitors level from Yuichi Komano’s cross.

Takahiro Masukawa restored the home side’s advantage but Japan striker Hisato Sato made it all square again with a header with 17 minutes left.

Toshiya Fujita saw red for Nagoya and Ueslei had the last laugh on his ex-employers by stroking home the decider from the penalty spot.

At Expo Stadium, Gamba had Satoshi Yamaguchi to thank for keeping their unbeaten record intact with an 84th-minute equalizer while Kazunari Hosaka eased the pressure on manager Takeshi Oki as Ventforet Kofu picked up their first win of the season by edging Vissel Kobe 4-3.

Edmilson sealed Albirex Niigata’s second win in a row with a 56th-minute striker in a 3-1 defeat of FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium. Kashima Antlers against Omiya Ardija finished 0-0.

Japan beats Vietnam

Kyodo News

Japan got off to a winning start to the final qualifying round for the Beijing Olympics women’s soccer tournament with a 2-0 triumph over Vietnam in a Group A match on Saturday.

The opening goal came from Japan’s top goal scorer, Homare Sawa, who struck home a headed pass from Eriko Arakawa in the 36th minute.

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