SAITAMA – It’s been nearly 16 years since FC Tokyo beat hated rival Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium.
It will have to wait another year to end that streak after Ryota Moriwaki’s equalizer at the death canceled out Diego Oliveira’s header in a 1-1 draw on Saturday in front of 39,055 fans at the former World Cup venue.
In the first round of J. League action since the recent international break, the Reds entered the game hoping to maintain their good form following two straight wins at Matsumoto Yamaga and Cerezo Osaka in the third and fourth rounds. Tokyo, meanwhile, sought to maintain its spot atop the nascent first-division standings, having claimed 10 out of a possible 12 points from its first four games.
Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa elected to make his first lineup change of the season, with 17-year-old midfielder Takefusa Kubo starting on the bench in favor of 26-year-old Kentaro Omori.
“Takefusa played three games in Myanmar (for Japan’s U-22 national team), and this would have been his fourth match in two weeks,” Hasegawa explained after the match. “He’s in good spirits but he wasn’t able to play 90 minutes.”
Urawa, playing with a four-back formation for the first time this season, dominated in the first 20 minutes with well over 70 percent possession, while the most Tokyo managed on the attack was an inquisitive effort from well beyond the penalty area by Omori.
“This was our best game this season,” said Urawa head coach Oswaldo Oliveira. We couldn’t get a win but we stopped Tokyo from creating chances and we kept them away from our goal.”
While a 22nd-minute collision required Urawa midfielder Ewerton to get his head bandaged after Tokyo midfielder Kento Hashimoto’s elbow drew blood, the game’s first caution was not issued until the 69th minute, with Tokyo’s Yoijro Takahagi the lucky recipient from referee Hiroyuki Kimura.
After the first half ended scoreless despite Urawa’s tiki-taka aspirations, Oliveira was forced to replace veteran midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi with Martinus in the hopes of restoring a spark to the team’s attack.
“We had more technicians on the pitch, and because of that we had more possession,” said Oliveira. “Kashiwagi had a knock and we took him off at halftime and that interrupted our flow.”
Tokyo responded with its first substitution in the 62nd minute as Kubo relieved striker Kensuke Nagai, adding speed to a counterattack that had shown potential if not frequency.
The dam finally broke in a 75th-minute Tokyo counter following a Reds corner kick. Kubo raced down the pitch and fed the ball to Tokyo captain Keigo Higashi, who cleverly chipped the ball toward striker Diego Oliveira. The Brazilian’s header was true for his second goal of the season, giving Tokyo the lead.
What seemed like Urawa’s best chance to equalize came in the 87th minute, when substitute defender Ryosuke Yamanaka’s blistering free kick bounced off the crossbar in front of the goal line and was subsequently cleared by Tokyo netminder Akihiro Hayashi.
Yamanaka instead set up the goal that salvaged a point for the home side, sending a grounded cross to Morioka, who once again established his role as a perennial villain amongst the Tokyo faithful with a low effort that snuck past Hayashi and inside the near post.
“I’m concerned that we don’t have a ‘closer’ player (on defense),” Hasegawa reflected. “We need to develop a player like that or these sort of results will continue.”
Elsewhere, Spanish striker Gabriel Xavier scored twice and Nagoya Grampus took back first place with a dominant 4-0 win over a woeful Consadole Sapporo at Toyota Stadium in Aichi Prefecture.
A snowy Yurtec Stadium in Sendai played host to Cerezo Osaka’s 2-0 win over Vegalta Sendai as Ken Tokura and Atomu Tanaka scored for the visitors.
At Yamaha Stadium, Jubilo Iwata’s Masaya Matsumoto scored at the start of the second half, but Kashima Antlers’ Leo Silva equalized late to salvage a 1-1 draw.
In a wild Hanshin Derby at Panasonic Stadium Suita, Vissel Kobe fought back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to win 4-3 over host Gamba Osaka with goals from Lukas Podolski and David Villa as well as a game-winning brace from Junya Tanaka.
Closing out the day at Showa Denko Dome, Douglas Viera scored for visiting Sanfrecce Hiroshima in a 1-0 win over Oita Trinita.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5