HIRATSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. – The Urawa Reds, coming off a 14th-place finish last year and without some of their big names, opened the J. League season by beating Shonan Bellmare 3-2 on Friday.
Despite missing several big players and with defensive linchpin Tomoaki Makino starting on the bench, the Reds were able to survive a tough fight, thanks to Takahiro Sekine’s late winner after Bellmare missed a penalty.
“We didn’t play at all well, but we still got off to a good start in the league,” Sekine said.
The visitors took a cautious stance from the get-go before 13,071 at BMW Stadium, allowing the hosts the bulk of the early possession. By falling back into a packed penalty area, the Reds practically dared Bellemare to take their best shot, and they did in the seventh minute.
With three attackers spread along the edge of the box, Toichi Suzuki’s long cross from the left found Naoki Ishihara unmarked in the middle of the three for an easy header.
The Reds equalized in the 39th minute. Koya Yuruki took a long ball down the left touchline from defender Takuya Okamoto and crossed to Shinzo Koroki near the far post. Goalkeeper Daiki Tomii parried the shot, but Koroki put back the rebound.
Brazilian forward Leandro put the visitors in front in the 42nd minute, scoring on a header from a long high ball into the box from Okamoto.
Twenty minutes into the second half, however, Bellmare equalized in identical fashion, as Naoki Yamada headed in between two defenders from another quality long ball from Suzuki.
The video assistant referee handed Bellmare a 73rd-minute penalty kick after referee Ryuji Sato missed a handball, but Norway international Tarik Elyounoussi hit the bar.
Instead, the visitors broke the deadlock in the 85th minute. Sekine got a long pass at the edge of the area and dribbled through a crowd of defenders before scoring just inside the left post.
“We’ll take the points,” Reds head coach Tsuyoshi Otsuki said. “When there’s a penalty involved it can go either way. We need to make some adjustments, and before too long we’ll have (forwards) Fabricio and (Yuki) Muto, and (midfielder Kosuke) Taketomi back, so things are looking up.”