URAWA’S J-LEAGUE MASTERCLASS

Saitama Stadium played host to some torrential rain and a 5 minute masterclass from home team Urawa Reds on Saturday. The Reds led 1-nil at halftime via a Umesaki scrambled goal. The midfielder scored his second goal of the season after a cross was whipped in from the right which young gun Genki Haraguchi volleyed into the upright. Umesaki was ‘johnny on the spot’ when the ball rebounded into his path.

The Reds created more chances in the first half but failed to convert, again hitting the upright on one occasion. When the players walked onto the pitch for the second half they were confronted by tropical storm-like conditions. Thankfully the fans were treated to a goal feast which would warm the hearts of their cold and wet bodies. It began in the 50th minute when the home team broke from their own half after some aggressive tackling. Kashiwagi fed Hirakawa a perfect through ball from the left, the defender had no option but to run the ball into the box and shoot. When he did, he hit the target. Moments later it was Haraguchi’s turn with the Reds once again in counter mode. Kashiwagi once again provided the assist and this ball truly was sublime. It seems the number eight loves a wet track: for me, the man of the match. Haraguchi’s finish was expected for a player with the attention and wraps he is currently receiving. In the 54th minute Haraguchi was credited for a goal which was rightfully Kashiwagi’s. An attempted clearance by a Tosu defender fell into the path of Kashiwagi who hammered it goal-ward. With the keeper beaten, Haraguchi’s airborne ricochet wasn’t needed but it saw him credited with the goal.

After some rapturous celebrations led by Makino the Reds decided to sit back and invite trouble. As if to match the Reds, Tosu scored three goals in four minutes between the 67th and 71st minute. A combination of lazy marking a lack of commitment saw Tosu almost snatch a point. In the 78th minute young Brazilian forward Tozim was first to a cross and headed just wide for Tosu. The team from Kyushu have shown much more resilience in their J1 debut than fellow Kyushu islanders Avispa Fukuoka last year. Avispa revisited J1 last season but were quickly sent packing as whipping boys of J1 in 2011. It’s hard to see Tosu getting caught up in a relegation battle this year. For Urawa Reds though, what will be of season 2012? They sit five points off the lead with 17 matches to play. They certainly look like a harmonious unit, but the defencive lapse which saw Sagan Tosu grab three goals in the space of four minutes raises questions.

Sawa – Kashiwa Reysol
Masakatsu Sawa for Kashiwa Reysol
Elsewhere in the J League, competition leaders Vegalta Sendai continued on their merry way with a victory over Vissel Kobe. Sendai continue to be hard to beat, conceding only 15 goals and on Saturday actually being on the wrong end of a 19-9 shooting stat. It’s this kind stubbornness that puts them in the champions bracket. As for the chasing pack, Sanfrecce Hiroshima fought off Jubilo Iwata with a 2-nil win putting them in 2nd place just two points off Sendai. Meanwhile, Nagoya Grampus were able to prove doubters (including me) wrong with a gutsy 2-1 win away to Kashiwa Reysol. Aussie Joshua Kennedy scored a neat flicked goal to put the Aichi team ahead but Reysol rallied to make it 1-1 soon after. With seven yellow cards issued, it was action aplenty in the Tokyo rain, but Kashiwa would go down due to an own goal in th 63rd minute.

Coming up this Saturday: Nagoya v Sendai, Hiroshima v Kawasaki, Shimizu v Kashiwa and lots more as the contenders begin to establish themselves.

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