SAITAMA – Urawa Reds picked up their first points of the new J. League season with a 3-1 win over Cerezo Osaka on Saturday.
Reds, who finished top of the overall table last season only to lose the championship final against Kashima Antlers, began the 2017 campaign with a shock defeat to Yokohama F. Marinos but took control against promoted Cerezo with first-half goals from Yuki Muto and Shinzo Koroki.
New Brazilian signing Rafael Silva added a third early in the second half, and although a goal from Cerezo defender Matej Jonjic seven minutes later checked Urawa’s momentum, the home side held on to claim the win at Saitama Stadium.
“We’ve had a marathon of five games in the space of two weeks,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic, who has also led his team to two wins out of two in this season’s Asian Champions League, which has included a trip to Australia.
“We knew it would be a difficult game because promoted teams are always motivated and every team has a special motivation when it plays Urawa. My players were very aggressive and never let Cerezo break properly on the counterattack. For the first 60 minutes we did what we set out to do, although things didn’t really work out for us after that. Still, I think we deserved the win.”
Cerezo, who returned to the top flight after a two-year absence, made headlines when they brought playmaker Hiroshi Kiyotake back to the club from Spanish side Sevilla over the winter, but a hamstring injury prevented the 27-year-old from making his first appearance of the season.
“Our players hadn’t played in the first division for a while and straight away we had to come here to play the strongest team in the league,” said Cerezo manager Yoon Jong-hwan. “Even still, the players never gave up. We conceded goals because of our defensive mistakes and that is something we will have to try to correct in training.
“We don’t have Kiyotake at the moment but it’s not just him — there are other players injured too. Of course that affects the team’s tactics and we will be stronger if those players can come back quickly. But in football you always have to deal with injuries, and the important thing is for the players who are playing to do their best.”
A tepid game exploded into life when Muto gave Urawa the lead in the 22nd minute, controlling a pass from Wataru Endo on the edge of the box before spinning and cracking a shot past goalkeeper Kenta Tanno.
Koroki made it two 15 minutes later, taking advantage of some calamitous Cerezo defending to slot home the rebound after Tanno had parried a shot from Silva.
Reds kept up the pressure going into the second half, and Silva put the home side 3-0 ahead in the 52nd minute with a clinical finish after being put through on goal by Takuya Aoki.
“It’s a great thing for the team that all the forwards are scoring at the moment,” said Koroki. “We’re all playing well, so whichever one of us is in the starting lineup, it doesn’t change what the team is doing. Hopefully we can keep going this way.”
Cerezo pulled a surprise goal back when Croatian defender Jonjic headed home direct from a corner in the 59th minute, but the visitors could not score a second despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession over the final 30 minutes.
“I think we had some chances after the goal, but it was too late after 3-0,” said Jonjic, who joined the club over the winter from South Korea’s Incheon United. “We started too slow. I think we missed some confidence in this game. After that goal we tried to come back, but it was too late.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, defending champion Kashima also notched its first win of the season, 1-0 over Ventforet Kofu, while a 53rd-minute goal from North Korean striker Chong Tese gave promoted Shimizu S-Pulse a 1-0 victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
FC Tokyo made it two wins from two with a 2-0 victory over Omiya Ardija, while Vegalta Sendai also stayed perfect with a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata.
Vissel Kobe shrugged off the midweek news that injured star striker Leandro will be out for six months and beat Albirex Niigata 2-1, and in the day’s late game, Yokohama F. Marinos thumped Consadole Sapporo 3-0.