SAITAMA – The high-flying Urawa Reds maintained their grip on top spot in the J. League first division with a comprehensive 4-1 win at home to Nagoya Grampus on Friday.
Nagoya’s Swedish striker Robin Simovic canceled out Yosuke Kashiwagi’s opener with a blistering effort shortly before the break, but Reds turned on the style in the second half, with Tadanari Lee, Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto all netting to keep Mihailo Petrovic’s men two points clear at the top of the table.
With nine first-stage matches played, Reds have 22 points, while Kawasaki Frontale remained in second with 20 after a 1-0 win at Gamba Osaka, as all-time J1 leading scorer Yoshito Okubo grabbed the clincher on the half-hour mark to extend his record with the 162nd goal of his career.
“It was a great game and after a performance like that you really feel the joy of working in soccer,” said Petrovic. “We played well from the start but after taking the lead we missed a decisive chance and I felt we got a bit sloppy.
“So I told the players at halftime to put pressure on Grampus and score and they did that, got the result and showed exactly the determination I was looking for.”
Reds signaled their intentions right from the kickoff in bright blustery conditions in Saitama, with Muto seeing an early shot blocked by Kisho Yano after an excellent pass from Wataru Endo.
The home side took the lead in the 25th minute with a finely taken effort.
Lee picked out Tsukasa Umesaki on the left and he in turn played a square pass to Kashiwagi, who swiveled at the edge of the box to drill in his shot, which Grampus goalkeeper Yohei Takeda got a hand to but could not keep out.
“After I scored we seemed to switch off a bit, but conceding the equalizer helped wind us up again,” said Kashiwagi. “Right now I am feeling pretty positive about what we are doing. We are growing in every single game and we can get even better and get through negative spells during games.”
Lee went close to adding a second when his shot came back off the crossbar, and Koroki then broke clean through, only to miss a gilt-edged chance as he tried to waltz the ball into the net around a posse of defenders when shooting seemed the more sensible option.
Koroki was punished for that miss as Simovic equalized on 39 minutes, the towering striker taking a headed pass from Shota Kobayashi on his chest and beating Shusaku Nishikawa with a stunning half volley from 30 meters for his sixth goal of the season.
Reds regained the advantage with a high quality goal of their own 11 minutes into the second period, however, Takahiro Sekine taking a return pass from Ryota Moriwaki and crossing for Lee to finish with an acrobatic strike.
Koroki atoned for his earlier miss to put Reds in control with the third, taking a short pass from Kashiwagi to bundle past Takeda in the 62nd minute.
The former Kashima Antlers man then turned provider for Muto to steer in the fourth moments later. Lee should have made it five but, with time and space, blazed a volley over the bar.
Grampus manager Takafumi Ogura admitted his team had been outclassed.
“We were beaten fair and square. There is not a lot more I can say than that,” said Ogura. “Robin scored a great goal but over the course of the game we could not play our game. But Urawa could.”
Simovic said, “Reds showed, at least today, that they were much better than us. I think in the first half we could stand up better but in the second half they completely destroyed us. We just have to take this with us and train hard.”
At Yamaha Stadium, Taisuke Nakamura scored the only goal of the game to give Jubilo Iwata a 1-0 win at home to reigning champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima, while a second-half strike by Wellington saw promoted Avispa Fukuoka edge FC Tokyo 1-0 away to pick up their first win back in the top flight.