SAITAMA – Takahiro Sekine scored an injury-time wonder goal as Urawa Reds beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-3 in a wild J. League encounter on Saturday night.
Both teams went into the game at Saitama Stadium on the back of three straight defeats but it was Reds who seized the early advantage with two goals from Shinzo Koroki and Yuki Muto in a three-minute spell shortly before halftime.
Yusuke Minagawa and substitute Anderson Lopes both scored early in the second half to bring Sanfrecce level, before Anderson Lopes gave the visitors an unlikely lead in the 72nd minute.
Urawa substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic then equalized with five minutes left on the clock but Sekine would have the last word, dribbling past a pack of Sanfrecce players before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Hirotsugu Nakabayashi and igniting an ecstatic home crowd.
“It was a difficult game but I was determined to do something to help the team,” said the 22-year-old Sekine, a product of the club’s youth system.
“At the end I was just thinking ‘one more step, one more step’ and then swung at the ball, and I’m just glad that it went in. We have to make sure that this win doesn’t go to waste and get ready for the next game.”
The defeat left Sanfrecce second-from-bottom in the table and heaped further pressure on manager Hajime Moriyasu, who led the club to three J. League titles in four seasons from 2012-15.
“The players gave everything they had,” said Moriyasu, whose team has picked up only 10 points from 17 games this season. “The result is hard to take but we have to look forward to the next game.
“Despite being 2-0 down at halftime, the players kept their concentration and never gave up. We knew that if we could score the next goal then the tide would turn our way. I have to apologize to the fans that we couldn’t get the win but I want them to believe that what the players did today will pay off in the matches to come.”
Reds took control of the game minutes before halftime. First Yoshiaki Komai cushioned a long pass from Yosuke Kashiwagi into Koroki’s path for the striker to fire home in the 42nd minute, before Muto doubled Urawa’s lead three minutes later with a low shot to the near post.
“I was looking for a goal today,” said Muto, who took his tally to five for the season. “Recently I haven’t been able to carve out shooting chances for myself so I tried to be positive today and it paid off. I was practicing shooting all day in training yesterday so thankfully that was fresh in my mind.”
Sanfrecce hauled themselves back into the game just two minutes into the second half, as Minagawa turned and hooked a left-foot shot past Reds ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
The visitors then drew level seven minutes later when Yoshifumi Kashiwa drove straight through the heart of the Urawa defense before squaring the ball across the box, where Minagawa left it for the onrushing Anderson Lopes to ram home.
“We conceded at a bad time, and when that happens you have to find a way to shut it down,” said Koroki. “We scored at a good time but then conceded at a bad time. You have bad periods over the 90 minutes and you have to find a way to deal with it.”
Sanfrecce looked to have completed a remarkable turnaround when Anderson Lopes rifled a right-foot shot past Nishikawa to sink the home crowd into despair, but Ljubijankic brought Urawa level in the 85th minute after taking a pass from Sekine.
Sekine then turned the game on its head with the 90 minutes already up, ghosting past the Sanfrecce defense to lift Urawa up to eighth in the provisional league table before Sunday’s fixtures.
“Both teams went into the game in a very difficult situation,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic, whose team had lost five of its previous seven matches. “We went into halftime with a two-goal lead and I told the players that that was a very dangerous score because you have to keep your concentration.
“Then we went out and conceded straight away, so I might as well have been talking to the dressing-room wall. We conceded one, two, three goals and it became very difficult for us. But the players showed they were determined to win and what can you say about Sekine’s goal other than it was world class.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Reis scored in the sixth minute as Consadole Sapporo ended a run of six straight defeats with a 1-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse.
Gamba Osaka moved within two points of leaders Kashiwa Reysol, who play Kashima Antlers on Sunday, with a 3-2 win over Vegalta Sendai, while Yokohama F. Marinos beat Omiya Ardija 2-1 to claim a fifth straight victory.
Kawasaki Frontale thrashed Vissel Kobe 5-0, while in the day’s other game, Jubilo Iwata beat bottom side Albirex Niigata 2-0.
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