SAITAMA – Goals in each half from Yuki Muto and substitute Shinzo Koroki gave Urawa Reds a winning start to the year as Mihailo Petrovic’s men downed Sydney FC in their Group H opener in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday night.
Muto, who got his break under Graham Arnold when the Sydney coach was in charge of Vegalta Sendai in 2014, opened the scoring early in the first half before Koroki converted from the penalty spot to seal victory midway through the second half.
Urawa emerged as the only Japanese team to win their first ACL game. In a Group G game, Gamba Osaka earned a 0-0 draw away to South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings. J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima and FC Tokyo both lost on Tuesday.
Reds, fielding a diluted starting 11 with new signing Wataru Endo, Yosuke Kashiwagi and Koroki on the bench, started brightly in chilly Saitama and took the lead after eight minutes.
Tsukasa Umesaki’s pass from the right changed course after hitting Matthew Jurman and Zlatan Ljubijankic outmuscled Zac Anderson, leaving Muto in space to drill the ball low into the bottom corner.
“Scoring the first goal was important and it just rolled into my path,” said Muto, who was named the new No. 9 from this season. “I feel lots of expectations on me (with the new No. 9 shirt). I want to repay that with a goal so I’m glad I managed to score.”
Sydney had the opportunity to hit back moments later, when Milos Dimitrijevic fired a free kick straight at Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa after Mitsuru Nagata had been booked for a foul on Christopher Naumoff.
Sloppy defending from Yuki Abe presented the visitors with another chance to level in the 26th minute, but Andrew Hoole saw his shot deflect off Nagata for a corner.
Sydney failed to capitalize on a flurry of free kicks and Reds nearly doubled their lead five minutes before the break, with Tomoaki Makino trying his luck with an overhead kick that was cleared off the line by Naumoff.
Nishikawa denied Sydney an equalizer eight minutes into the second half, a powerful close-range drive from Anderson hitting him square in the face.
His counterpart, Vedran Janjetovic, did well to push away an angled drive from Umesaki at the other end but then turned villain as he was booked for bringing down Koroki, who dusted himself off to drill home from the spot five minutes after coming on for Umesaki.
Milos Ninkovic forced a fine save from Nishikawa with six minutes left and Jurman scooped over from the resulting corner, but Sydney could not find a way back.
Urawa are looking to improve on their recent ACL form after going out at the group stage in their last two appearances in 2013 and 2015.
“We want to make use of last year’s hard lessons,” Muto said. “It was great to win at home.”
Wednesday’s clash was a rematch of a key group-stage game in 2007 when Urawa held on for a scoreless draw here to pip Sydney to a place in the knockout stage. Reds went on to become the first Japanese club to win the ACL that year.
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