I was at Ajinomoto Stadium on Saturday to see second take on third, as FC Tokyo hosted Urawa Reds in J1…
TOKYO — Urawa Reds kept pace at the top of the J.League on Saturday, emerging as 4-3 victor from a slobberknocker with fellow high-flier FC Tokyo.
The win kept Reds level on points with overall league-leader Sanfrecce Hiroshima — which kept its nose in front on goal-difference after a 2-0 triumph over Ventforet Kofu — with just two matches of the regular season to play.
First-stage champion Urawa raced into a two-goal lead within 14 minutes at Ajinomoto Stadium thanks to strikes from Yosuke Kashiwagi and Yuki Muto, before Keigo Higashi pulled one back for the hosts.
Takahiro Sekine and Tomoaki Makino found the net to maintain Reds’ control of the match, but a late brace from Hideto Takahashi meant Mihailo Petrovic’s side was hanging on as the clock ticked down.
Reds’ coach was relieved to ultimately escape with the three points.
“In Germany there is the mentality for the team in the lead to go for five or six goals, I’d like my team to also have that approach,” he said.
“It’s like boxing. If you get the opportunity to finish the opponent off, you have to take it. At 4-1, the opposition was on the ropes and we should have sent them down to the mat.”
Reds started brightly and took the lead in the 11th minute, Kashiwagi sidefooting home after Tokyo keeper Vlada Avramov palmed the ball into his path.
Three minutes later Muto bent a beauty into the top corner from just outside the box to double Urawa’s lead.
Higashi halved Tokyo’s deficit in the 16th minute — converting from an improbable angle after an inch-perfect Takuji Yonemoto through-ball — but Sekine re-established Reds’ two-goal lead in the 27th minute, rifling home from inside the penalty area after his first attempt had been blocked.
Makino then made it 4-1, firing into the top corner to finish off a wonderful Reds passing move after receiving from Zlatan Ljubijankic just outside the penalty area.
“A game against Tokyo is one of the most important of the season, and to win at their ground in front of so many people is really important and gives us a lot of confidence,” Ljubijankic said.
It looked like the game was up for Tokyo at that point, but Massimo Ficcadenti’s men launched a late surge — Takahashi thumping a header home from a Kosuke Ota cross in the 74th and then lashing in from close-range after Nishikawa fumbled the ball into his path with six minutes to play.
Japan’s goalkeeper more than made up for that mistake at the end of the match, pulling off an instinctive double-save in injury time to make sure of the victory for his side.
Sanfrecce extend stage lead
Elsewhere, Sanfrecce kept themselves on top of the overall rankings, downing Ventforet Kofu thanks to goals from Douglas and Kohei Shimizu.
That leaves the Purple Archers level with Reds on 68 points but 10 goals better off with six points to play for.
Hajime Moriyasu’s side also leads the second-stage table, and now three points clear of Kashima Antlers after the Ibaraki outfit lost 2-1 to Shonan Bellmare.
Meanwhile, Montedio Yamagata was relegated back to J2 after losing 3-1 to fellow struggler Vissel Kobe — whose own J1 status was preserved thanks to Kazuma Watanabe’s hat-trick.