Saitama – The J. League’s first division was finally back at Saitama Stadium on Saturday night, even if the fans weren’t.
Surrounded by seats festooned in red, white and black, Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos battled to a scoreless draw in the J1’s second round, resuming a competition that had been suspended for over four months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Neither the defending champion Marinos nor a Reds side with a number of new names in the starting lineup looked to be at their peak form, turning what would otherwise have been a marquee encounter into something more resembling a training game.
After a lackluster first half by both sides, Marinos found more of a rhythm and pressured the Reds defense for most of the second half.
“We were a little bit slow (in the first half), restarts, lots of free kicks. We were taking too many touches with the ball,” said Marinos manager Ange Postecoglou. “I said at halftime to move the ball quicker, play our football and move our tempo up, and we did that.
“In the second half we picked up the tempo and created some opportunities, we just couldn’t score a goal.”
Ultimately last year’s champions failed to get past veteran goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa, who saved a point for Urawa in stoppage time with a dramatic save of Edigar Junio’s late effort.
While Urawa officials did their best to recreate the famous Saitama Stadium atmosphere with a full-stand display featuring the J. League’s schale trophy behind one goal and the phrase “WE STAND BESIDE YOU” behind the other, the only sounds accompanying players’ shouts were the chirping of cicadas and the occasional roar of nearby traffic.
According to Urawa, the display consisted of over 60,000 vinyl sheets as well as 500 flags and nearly 3,000 towels, and was assembled by volunteers as well as staff from the club’s academy.
“I know that after training yesterday, our staff went to Saitama Stadium to prepare everything,” Urawa manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki said. “They didn’t tell me what it was going to look like beforehand… I think it was very moving for us.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, 2019 runner-up FC Tokyo won 1-0 at Kashiwa Reysol, with Tsuyoshi Watanabe scoring on a 68th-minute corner soon after Reysol midfielder Richardson was ejected for a second yellow card.
At Mitsuzawa Stadium in Yokohama, Musashi Suzuki scored twice for Consadole Sapporo in a 2-1 victory over Yokohama FC. Oita Trinita midfielder Tatsuya Tanaka also scored twice to give his team a 2-0 result over Sagan Tosu.
Cerezo Osaka held on to beat cross-prefecture rival Gamba Osaka 2-1 at Suita Stadium, the same score by which Kawasaki Frontale edged out Kashima Antlers at Todoroki Stadium.
Shota Kaneko gave Shimizu S-Pulse an early lead at IAI Stadium Nihondaira, but Peter Cklamovski’s side was not able to hold on in a 2-1 loss to Nagoya Grampus. Vegalta Sendai won 1-0 at Shonan Bellmare thanks to a third-minute goal by Ryo Germain.
In the late game, Sanfrecce Hiroshima romped to a 3-0 win at Vissel Kobe as Leandro Pereira scored twice.