SAITAMA – Omiya Ardija won their first point in the Saitama derby in more than three years in a sweltering 2-2 draw at Urawa Reds in the J. League on Sunday.
Before a bumper crowd of 53,951 at Saitama Stadium, Brazilian Mateus’ equalizer midway through the second half handed Omiya its first league point off Urawa since April 2013. It also denied Reds what would have been their first six-game win streak in the league in a decade.
Yosuke Kashiwagi’s goal late in the first half was canceled out by Ataru Esaka seconds before the break. Yuki Muto briefly reestablished Reds’ advantage on the other side of halftime ahead of Mateus’ first strike in an Omiya shirt.
Urawa would have liked to have sent Shinzo Koroki and Wataru Endo to the Rio Olympics on a winning note, but manager Mihailo Petrovic wasn’t unhappy with the result given the heat and the tight summer fixtures.
“The game really opened up in the second half, when our legs started to go,” Petrovic said. “Despite that, we still managed to create chances and were up 2-1 at one point.”
Koroki, one of Japan’s three overage players and who leaves for Brazil on Thursday, had to be substituted in the 57th minute with a sore hip he suffered in the first half but the injury is not believed to be serious.
“If I hadn’t come off injured, I felt like I could have scored,” Koroki said. “It would have been nice if I were going to Rio with all three points, especially this being the Saitama derby.
“I just have to communicate with my teammates when I get there and pick up (manager Makoto Teguramori’s) style of football as fast as I can. That’s all I can do.”
Reds predictably dominated the ball from kickoff and needed only four minutes before Koroki caught the defense napping, hitting the right post from well outside the box.
In the 37th minute, Koroki won a free kick at defender Kohei Yamakoshi’s expense from around 20 meters out. Kashiwagi did the rest, beautifully curling home into the top right corner to push the hosts in front.
Yet the lead would not last to the interval as Omiya equalized in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
From a right-wing corner taken by Shigeru Yokotani, Urawa practically gifted Omiya the equalizer, leaving Esaka completely unmarked for a header he comfortably buried into the back of the net.
Shortly before the hour, Petrovic brought on the ex-Ardija pair of Zlatan Ljubijankic and Takuya Aoki, changes that set in motion Muto’s header in the 59th minute from a Takahiro Sekine cross.
But Urawa again failed to retain the lead, Mateus hitting past Japan goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa in the 68th minute from a short counter as Omiya snatched a share of the spoils.
Ardija boss Hiroki Shibuya, whose side went close several times in the dying minutes to frighten Reds, said Omiya needs to learn to win the big games if it is to climb up the J1 table.
“We should be winning games like this,” Shibuya said. “But we equalized twice, first from a corner and then the goal by Mateus. Some of the boys were sprawled out on the pitch after the game. I want to commend them for their resilience.”
In other J1 games, first-stage champions Kashima Antlers were held to a shock 3-3 away draw by relegation-threatened Ventforet Kofu, while Vissel Kobe beat visiting Shonan Bellmare 2-0.
Kawasaki Frontale, leaders on the overall standings ahead of Kashima, drew 1-1 away to Jubilo Iwata. Yokohama F. Marinos stood on top of the second stage over Kawasaki and Urawa on goal difference after a 2-2 draw at champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Gamba Osaka suffered an embarrassing 0-0 home draw to last-place Avispa Fukuoka, and elsewhere it was: FC Tokyo 0, Kashiwa Reysol 1; Albirex Niigata 1, Vegalta Sendai 2; Sagan Tosu 0, Nagoya Grampus 0.