Soccer / J. League

Urawa's first-stage title hopes fade with defeat at Gamba


Urawa Reds’ faltering first-stage title hopes suffered another major blow with a 1-0 defeat away to bitter rivals Gamba Osaka in the J. League first division on Wednesday night.

Takashi Usami did the damage with the only goal of the game on a breakaway early in the first half, sentencing Reds to their second straight defeat.

The result leaves Reds on 27 points from 14 games, seven behind leaders Kawasaki Frontale, who have 34 from 15 in the 17-round first stage. Gamba have 23 points from 15.

Beaten 2-0 at home to second-placed Kashima Antlers on Saturday, Reds signaled their intent with a couple of raids after the kickoff, but it was Gamba who went in front with their first attempt on goal with eight minutes gone.

Ademilson embarked on a charging run through the middle of the park, and after mugging both Yuki Abe and Kenichi Kaga, the Brazilian laid the ball off for Usami to lash home his second goal in as many games at Suita Stadium after also netting in a 3-3 draw with Shonan Bellmare on Saturday.

“The goal was 99 percent Ade’s (Ademilson’s). He did all the work by carrying the ball that far and setting me up. All I had to do was put it away,” said Usami, who looks set to leave Gamba for a second spell in Germany.

“I have wanted to score at home and try and contribute to wins so it is good that I have been able to score in the last two games.”

Zlatan Ljubijankic hooked over the bar midway through the first half as Urawa pushed hard for an equalizer, but Gamba nearly doubled their lead seven minutes before the break, Yasuhito Endo turning Daiki Niwa’s deflected effort against the outside of the post.

Reds boss Mihailo Petrovic made a double substitution just before the hour, with Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto coming in for ineffective strikers Naoki Ishihara and Ljubijankic.

But despite a long spell of sustained pressure, that switch failed to yield a breakthrough for the visitors, although Tadanari Lee should have leveled when he missed a sitter in the 75th minute.

Endo missed another chance to score his 100th career J1 goal when he hit the woodwork again with just over 10 minutes left.

“Urawa are a good side and we struggled a bit but we played them at their own game and I think the result was a fair reflection of the game,” said Usami.

In Wednesday’s only other fixture, rearranged due to the Asian Champions League, Kento Hashimoto’s 69th-minute strike earned FC Tokyo a 1-1 draw at home to reigning champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.