Critics of Urawa have branded them a reincarnation of the Sanfrecce Hiroshima outfit that Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic led until the end of 2011. The index of players that once wore violet but now sport red includes: Tomoaki Makino, Tadanari Lee, Ryota Moriwaki, Shusaku Nishikawa (GK), and Yosuke Kashiwagi, who elected to board the Shinkansen for Urawa before manager Petrovic.
This Saturday at 2pm Japan time, Urawa take on Gamba Osaka in the match that should end the argument over who will be this year’s J-League champions.
With three matches remaining in the J-League, it’s hard to deny Urawa their place as champions elect. They’re currently five points clear of closest opponent Gamba Osaka and have led the competition for the past 13 rounds. The Reds had a shaky October, where they lost to Vegalta Sendai, and drew with Kofu and Kashima. But their win against Yokohama in the port city on 3rd November, could jolt the team in the right direction. Meanwhile, rivals Gamba gave up two points when they drew with Sendai in their most recent J-League fixture.
It’s hard to believe that Gamba Osaka were in Japan’s second tier last year, but five rounds into the 2014 season it was obvious. The blue half of Osaka was battling away in 14th position while city rival Cerezo Osaka was out of the boxes like an underfed greyhound. Gamba’s rivals had gone on an off season spending spree that had this blogger so impressed I tipped them to be title challengers.
How wrong I was. Cerezo’s early form went south, while Gamba turned a corner and have barely had their foot off the throttle. Since the mid season break in July, Gamba Osaka have won 13 of 17 J-League matches.
Poignantly, it was three rounds ago that the blue team did drop some points, and then again, unexpectedly against 14th placed Vegalta Sendai. It begs the question: Have Endo and co. peaked too soon?
The above graph clearly illustrates how Gamba have stalked the Reds since round 27. But in round 30 the Kansai based team were within three points, now they lay five points away. Gamba simply must win today.
Perhaps most important of all Petrovic’s recruits is Shinzo Koroki who actually arrived via Kashima. The 28 year old is top scorer for the Reds with 12 goals this season.
Adding intrigue to today’s clash is the injury cloud over Urawa’s top scorer. Koroki was missing for the team’s last J-League outing against Yokohama F Marinos, but the player himself was adamant he would get some game time even if he risked long term injury as a result.
“I came to the Reds to help them win a championship. It would kill me if I couldn’t even make the bench for the biggest game of the season with the title on the line,” Koroki was quoted as saying in the Japan Times.
Today we find out if Koroki and the other hand picked recruits can deliver Urawa’s second J-League title.