Soccer / J. League

Reds remain unbeaten since new manager Hori's appointment last month

Koroki scores pair of goals to lift Urawa past FC Tokyo

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Shinzo Koroki scored twice as Urawa Reds continued their nascent revival under new manager Takafumi Hori with a 2-1 win over FC Tokyo on Saturday.

Urawa fired previous boss Mihailo Petrovic in late July following a string of poor results that saw the team sink into midtable, but headed into the game at Saitama Stadium on the back of two wins and a draw in all competitions under Hori.

Koroki opened the scoring in the 17th minute before Kento Hashimoto equalized for Tokyo five minutes later, but Koroki had the last word with his second goal of the game in the 30th minute, taking his league-leading tally to 15 for the season.

“Both teams were in the same situation but we were at home and we just wanted to get the three points and I’m glad we did,” said Koroki, after a game that was delayed by an hour because of heavy rain and streaks of lightning.

“The team winning is more important than my personal goal tally. The first thing is for the team to start climbing the table and I’ll be doing my best for us to do that. We’ve got Kawasaki next in the Asian Champions League and we’ll be looking to win that one.”

The result lifted Urawa into seventh place in the J. League table — 13 points behind leaders Kashima Antlers — but Hori refused to be satisfied with his team’s performance.

“Our opponents had a lot of possession today,” said Hori, who served as a coach under Petrovic and had a brief interim spell in charge of the team in 2011. “Usually we have more of the ball in the first half but that wasn’t the case today.

“But the players were very tenacious and I have to thank them for that. They kept going until the end and that paid off with the win. I hope this win gives them confidence. I think in terms of attacking we need to have more possession but the players stuck to the task.”

Koroki profited from a slice of luck to break open a close game with the first goal. Yoshiaki Komai played a low cross into the box that Yuki Muto sent spinning upward, and Koroki was on hand to meet the ball with a volley that goalkeeper Takuo Okubo could not keep out despite getting a hand to.

Tokyo took just five minutes to equalize when Yoshito Okubo found Sei Muroya raiding into the Urawa box, and the fullback picked out Hashimoto for a cool finish.

But Koroki sent Urawa back into the lead with his second goal of the game in the 30th minute, delivering the final touch to a neat rat-a-tat passing move involving Tadanari Lee and Muto.

Tokyo substitute Shoya Nakajima forced Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa into a nervy save that almost slipped out of his grasp in the 68th minute, before Hashimoto tried his luck with a shot two minutes later.

Urawa substitute Shinya Yajima and Tokyo midfielder Yojiro Takahagi then both hit the post in a lively end to the game, but the home side held on for the win after Kosuke Ota fired a late free kick into the wall.

“The fact that we couldn’t win was disappointing and something for us to reflect on,” said Tokyo manager Yoshiyuki Shinoda, whose team is in 10th place. “The players worked hard but we gave Urawa too much space in the middle for their first goal and we need to think about that.

“It was good that we managed to get the equalizer but we conceded again instead of going on to score our second or third goals. We made chances, but if you don’t take them you won’t win the game. There were good and bad things from this game but the players are looking forward and hopefully we can build on the good things that we did.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Antlers beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0 to open up a four-point gap at the top of the table. Second-place Cerezo Osaka slipped off the pace after conceding a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Jubilo Iwata, and were joined on 45 points by Kawasaki Frontale, who beat Consadole Sapporo 2-1, and Kashiwa Reysol, who edged Gamba Osaka 1-0.

Vegalta Sendai scored two goals in the last eight minutes to claim a 2-1 victory over bottom side Albirex Niigata, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima picked up only their fourth win of the season, 1-0 over Ventforet Kofu.

In the day’s other game, Sagan Tosu turned on the style in a 3-0 win over Omiya Ardija. Vissel Kobe, who fired manager Nelsinho earlier in the week, face Yokohama F. Marinos in Sunday’s only game.