Kyosuke Tagawa needed just 36 seconds to put FC Tokyo on the board on Saturday.
it wasn’t enough to chase away the dark clouds hanging over the team — both literally and figuratively — as it fell 2-1 to Urawa Reds, with Hiroki Sakai and Ataru Esaka’s goals giving the visitors a crucial three points in the chase for a berth in next year’s Asian Champions League.
“It was a very difficult game,” Urawa manager Ricardo Rodriguez said of the team’s first win against Tokyo since the 2018 season. “Even though they scored first we were able to take control and earn chances.
“It was a big shock to give up that goal, but the players stood back up and performed well.”
The 22-year-old Tagawa’s effort, which came at the end of a perfectly placed Masato Morishige pass from deep in the backfield, tied him with former striker Yoshinori Muto for the club’s fastest goal since Stats Perform began tracking J. League statistics in 2015.
“I thought a ball might come my way,” Tagawa said. “I’ve struggled with finishing and I think the goal was a result of what I’ve been practicing.”
It was a great way to start the game for Tokyo supporters left frustrated and scandalized by mercurial attacker Leandro’s five-game suspension after he was shown red for elbowing Nagoya defender Shinnosuke Nakatani in the face during Wednesday’s 1-1 draw.
Leandro’s usual attacking partners, fellow Brazilians Diego Oliveira and Adailton, started on the bench in favor of Tagawa, Kensuke Nagai and Ryoma Watanabe, whose high pressing gave the Urawa back line all they could handle over an intense first half but was unable to produce a follow-up.
Urawa had its own share of chances and it was defender Sakai who snuck past Japan teammate Yuto Nagatomo on the right flank to poke in the equalizer as first-half stoppage time began. The goal, initially flagged offside, was confirmed after a two-minute video review.
“I would have liked to have celebrated it properly but VAR took time,” Sakai said of his first J. League goal since March 2012. “My mistake led to Tokyo’s opening goal so it was important for me to score the equalizer.”
Tokyo continued to push for a second go-ahead goal as the second half began, and it nearly came in the 61st minute when a Tagawa header struck the crossbar.
But it was instead Urawa who completed the comeback just five minutes later, when Tokyo goalkeeper Go Hatano dove to save Takahiro Sekine’s blistering shot, only to see it hit the woodwork and rebound to a wide-open Esaka whose only remaining task was to aim between the posts.
“I could have done more tactically to help us earn a better result, so I feel responsible for the loss and don’t think it was the fault of the players,” said Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa, who celebrated his 56th birthday on Saturday. “The players were tired with so many games in such a short period but they ran hard until the end.”
The win put Urawa level at 54 points with fourth-place Nagoya, which has also played 30 games, and third-place Vissel Kobe, which has a game in hand. In its first year under Rodriguez, the team is looking to secure its first ACL appearance since finishing runner-up in 2019.
“What’s important is not worrying about our opponent’s rank and instead focusing on our performance,” Rodriguez said. “We’re trying to improve our team in a lot of ways and through that we can improve our place in the standings.”
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