SAITAMA – Kawasaki Frontale compounded the Urawa Reds’ woes with a 2-0 defeat in the J. League on Tuesday, netting a goal in each half through Yasuto Wakizaka and late substitute Yu Kobayashi.
With manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki serving a suspension from the stands, the struggling Reds were outplayed at Saitama Stadium by a Frontale side looking to keep alive its slim hopes of a third straight league title.
Having taken just one point from their past four matches, the Reds are in the unusual position of contending for their second Asian Champions League trophy in three seasons while fighting to avoid relegation to J2.
Urawa, which will kick off the two-leg ACL final against Saudi side Al-Hilal on Saturday in Riyadh, opted to keep captain and top scorer Shinzo Koroki out of the starting lineup for a second straight game.
The home side had the first chance after three minutes when Koya Yuruki found Yosuke Kashiwagi with a cross from the left, but the Reds attacker could not make clean contact with his header from the middle of the area.
Fourth-place Frontale soon found their rhythm and were the better side in the opening half, edging the hosts in possession while preventing them from putting a shot on target.
Urawa’s season-long defensive struggles came to the fore once again as they conceded to Toru Oniki’s men in the 35th minute.
Looking to cut off a ball into the area by Manabu Saito, Mauricio only managed to float his clearance inside halfway to Frontale midfielder Hidemasa Morita, who immediately picked out Wakizaka with a diagonal pass.
The attacking midfielder beat one defender with his dribble, then threaded his shot between two others, finding the back of the net from outside the arc.
The Reds picked up the intensity early in the second half, with striker Quenten Martinus coming inches from an equalizer when he lashed an attempt from the right of the area into the opposite post.
Urawa had a penalty shout denied in the 76th minute after the ball appeared to hit Morita’s arm off a corner kick.
Having entered for Leandro Damiao midway through the half, captain and club talisman Kobayashi sealed the result in the 78th minute when he beat Ryota Moriwaki to a ball into the box from Morita and headed past ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa from directly in front.