ABE AND REDS WITHIN STRIKING DISTANCE

Urawa Reds have closed the gap on J League leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima to just two points. Now in third place behind Vegalta Sendai and the aforementioned, the Reds’ defeat of Shimizu S Pulse over the weekend sounded an ominous warning. They are the big club and they’re coming to get them (I’m talking about Sendai and Hiroshima).

The Reds travelled to Shizuoka prefecture (west of Tokyo) for their round 23 clash with Shimizu S Pulse. Punters had the game as an even money bet with Shimizu winning their last three outings including the scalps of Hiroshima and Nagoya. Early on Reds defender Tsuboi was happy to turn in his own box and pass the ball into the path of danger man Takagi. Takagi’s shot was parried by the keeper and danger averted. Soon after, the Reds displayed their speedy transition skills and Hirakawa’s cross from the right was met by a sublime half volley from midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki. 1-nil after eleven minutes.

Australian Alex Brosque would soon be regretting pursuing Umesaki into the box, as his tackle which looked to be all ball, was ruled a foul. Brosque had stole in from behind to dispossess Umesaki at speed, but the Reds midfielder seemed to ‘come a cropper’ for unknown reasons, a sudden seizure which gave the impression Umesaki could suffer some serious whiplash. However, the little battler was up on his feet within moments to witness captain Abe slot the penalty comfortably. 2-nil after twenty minutes.

The 2nd half saw Shimizu do the majority of threatening with one comical moment early on involving Reds keeper Kato crawling around amongst a scrimmage of players at the six yard box. Eventually the ball was cleared and further danger only came via a free kick, and another chance for Takagi, who had to hit a bouncing ball from the edge of the box but only succeeded in finding a pretty young fan in row z. The Reds ran out 2-nil winners while playing deep throughout the 2nd half.

Making news at the top for all the wrong reasons this week were Hiroshima and Kashiwa. Hiroshima fell to FC Tokyo at home 1-nil. Kashiwa Reysol however, lost 3-nil and were leap frogged by opponents Jubilo Iwata. Kashiwa went down 1-nil in the 5th minute and were down a man from the 18th minute when regular defender Noaya Kondo was given a straight red. Jubilo with their all Japanese line up, including international Ryoichi Maeda weren’t going to be stopped. Jubilo manager Hitoshi Morishita sang the praises of his men saying, “The fact that we went on to score a third shows just how much our team has grown.” The comments were made in regards to a disallowed goal early in the 2nd half.

Elsewhere Sendai made up valuable ground to be one point from the peak after coming home stronger then lowly Omiya Ardija. In relegation news Gamba Osaka look set to survive with a 7-2 victory over the weekend and Albirex Niigata also took three points against Kashima Antlers. Antlers will definitely be looking over their shoulders as those nearby all gained ground. The most successful club in the J League’s history is in real danger of being dragged into the relegation fight.

Stay tuned next week as Albirex Niigata in 3rd last (relegation zone) face Cerezo Osaka who sit just two points above them. And with Jubilo Iwata at home to Hiroshima you know things at the top will continue to astound in the J League.

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Spreading the word on soccer in East Asia.

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