FC Tokyo fans are usually never eager to welcome their Urawa Reds counterparts to Ajinomoto Stadium.
But with capacity at the venue limited to just 5,000 under the government’s coronavirus-related restrictions, even Tokyo’s hardcore supporters seemed to miss their usual foes on Saturday, displaying a banner reading “Urawa, next time let’s meet at a sold-out stadium.”
Tokyo fans may not have been able to cheer, but they were certainly happy to applaud Tokyo’s first win over Urawa since the 2013 season, with Brazilians Diego Oliveira and Adailton both finding the back of the net in the 2-0 result.
“Our play in the first half wasn’t bad, but we came out slowly to match Urawa’s pace and I wish we’d started a bit more up-tempo,” Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa said. “We had better pace in the second half. Both goals were great and I’m glad we were able to keep them off the scoreboard.”
Tokyo largely managed to stymie the Urawa attack through the first-half water break and created several chances of its own, with Leandro in particular threatening with his runs into the penalty area and defender Sei Muroya setting up chances with his crosses from the right side.
One such cross provided Tokyo’s opening goal in the 44th minute as the ball somehow made its way to talisman Oliveira, who was in just the right place to chest the ball into the net from five meters out.
The play undoubtedly made Urawa manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki long for Australian defender Thomas Deng, who was a surprise omission from the team’s matchday squad due to fitness concerns.
Adailton, a key offseason acquisition for Tokyo who relieved striker Kensuke Nagai shortly after the hour mark, easily made it 2-0 in the 66th minute when he forced a turnover off Urawa’s Takuya Aoki near the center of the pitch before a sublime solo run through the Reds back line and a flawless right-footed finish.
“After I stole the ball I had space in front of me. My talent is in my power and I’m glad I was able to use that and finish with a goal,” Adailton said. “We have a fantastic team, and if we keep playing like this we can win the title.”
Tokyo’s last win over Urawa took place on September 14, 2013, when defender Masato Morishige scored in the 3-2 result at the old National Stadium. The former Japan international was recognized before the match for having reached 350 J1 appearances.
Two other Tokyo players from that game started for Tokyo on Saturday — captain Keigo Higashi, who came off with eight minutes remaining in the second half, and central midfielder Kento Hashimoto, who put in a full shift in his final appearance wearing blue and red before his transfer to Russia’s Rostov.
Hashimoto, who entered Tokyo’s youth system in 2006 and spent his first two professional seasons on loan at Roasso Kumamoto, made a total of 132 appearances for Tokyo and was feted with a sendoff ceremony after the match.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise of helping Tokyo win the league. … I’m thankful to the club for respecting my decision,” Hashimoto told the crowd of 4,705. “There was a lot of pressure to inherit Naohiro Ishikawa’s No. 18 uniform, but it’s been an honor to wear it for 2½ years.”
Elsewhere on Saturday, Kashima Antlers beat defending champion Yokohama F. Marinos 4-2 for their first win of the season, while Kawasaki Frontale held onto the league lead with a 5-1 victory away against Yokohama FC.
Kashiwa Reysol held on for a 3-2 win over Shonan Bellmare, while Gamba Osaka defeated Oita Trinita 2-1.
Nagoya Grampus managed a 1-0 victory over winless Sagan Tosu, while Vissel Kobe easily handled Shimizu S-Pulse with a 3-1 home result.
Cerezo Osaka defeated Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 at Edion Stadium in Hiroshima, while Vegalta Sendai settled for a 2-2 draw with Consadole Sapporo.