SAITAMA – Shinzo Koroki scored a goal in each half to help Urawa Reds get back to winning ways with a 2-0 victory over promoted Avispa Fukuoka on Saturday.
Reds, who finished second in the overall J. League table last season but lost in the first round of the playoffs, went into the match at Saitama Stadium on the back of a surprise home loss to Jubilo Iwata, having won their opening game of the season.
But Koroki swooped in the 18th and 51st minutes to make short work of J1 new boys Avispa, who have yet to register a win in the top flight after coming up through the playoffs last season.
“We were coming into this match after losing our first home game of the season, so it was difficult,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “There is always pressure on Urawa Reds but today especially so.
“There were a lot of people disappointed by what happened last week, and within the club there were harsh exchanges of opinion. We were determined to come out today and be aggressive and not let them play their game. We could have scored more goals, but if you compare how we played today to the Jubilo game, we were a different team.”
Every team that has been promoted through the playoffs since the system was introduced in 2012 has gone on to be relegated the next season, and Avispa manager Masami Ihara knows his side will have to shape up to avoid a similar fate.
“Reds are a strong team and we knew before the game that we would have to defend for long periods,” said former national team captain Ihara, who ended his illustrious playing career with two seasons at Urawa. “We made some defensive mistakes and we didn’t start the game well. We were aiming to hold them scoreless for the first half, but when they scored that made things difficult.
“There was a gap in quality between the two teams and we need to improve. Reds have a lot of national team players and we aren’t at a level where we can compete with them yet.”
Urawa enjoyed almost total possession straight from the kickoff, and it seemed only a matter of time before the home side took the lead. Koroki duly obliged in the 18th minute, redirecting Takahiro Sekine’s neat volleyed cross past Avispa goalkeeper Lee Bum-young.
“It was a great pass from Sekine,” said Koroki. “All I had to do was touch it in. The supporters expect me to score goals and I’m glad I was able to meet those expectations today.”
Things got worse for the visitors when striker Wellington was carried off on a stretcher midway through the first half, but the Brazilian rejoined the fray and almost pulled Avispa level when Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa turned his header onto the post two minutes before halftime.
Urawa doubled its lead six minutes after the restart, however, when Tsukasa Umesaki sent in a cross that Koroki controlled before hitting a deflected shot that flew past Lee.
Kim Hyun-hun headed a free kick narrowly over the bar as Avispa attempted to find a way back into the game, but Urawa dealt with the danger comfortably and had another goal ruled out for offside when Yuki Muto put the ball in the net in the 73rd minute.
“We didn’t really have any moments where we were in danger today,” said Nishikawa. “After what happened last week, we were determined to keep a clean sheet.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima profited from a 95th-minute own goal to draw 2-2 with Shonan Bellmare but stayed winless after three games, while Kashima Antlers’ 100 percent start to the season ended with a 1-0 loss to Vegalta Sendai.
Manabu Saito scored in the 89th minute to give Yokohama F. Marinos a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata, Sagan Tosu drew 1-1 at home to Ventforet Kofu, and Nagisa Sakurauchi salvaged a 2-2 draw for Jubilo Iwata against Kashiwa Reysol with a goal in the 90th minute.
Kashiwa manager Milton Mendes reportedly tendered his resignation after the match – only his third on the job – citing family health concerns.
In the day’s late game, Yoshito Okubo notched his 158th career goal to pull level with Sanfrecce’s Hisato Sato at the top of the all-time J1 goalscoring list in Kawasaki Frontale’s 3-2 win over Nagoya Grampus.
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