Urawa Reds emerged victorious from their J1 season opener against Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday, although they were made to work for it…
KASHIWA, Chiba – Substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic was the hero for Urawa Reds on Saturday, heading home a late winner to deliver a hard-fought 2-1 win away to Kashiwa Reysol on the opening day of the 2016 J.League season.
Forward Yuki Muto gave Reds the lead from a rebound in in the 52nd minute, and although Reysol equalized 12 minutes later through Hidekazu Otani, Ljubijankic was on hand to seal the three points for last year’s first stage champion in the 84th minute.
“In the first half, we started very well and were pressing them from the front and created several goal-scoring chances, while not giving the opponent any,” Reds coach Mihailo Petrovic said.
“It’s hard to keep that speed up for the whole 90 minutes, though, and after we went ahead, maybe we dropped back a little too much and invited them to attack us more, leading to their equalizer.
“Their goal was maybe a little bit lucky, but my players didn’t lose their confidence and were determined to keep going forward and do whatever they could to get the goal and make sure of victory.”
After a slightly cautious start the game burst into life in the 31st minute when Muto – who also opened the scoring in Reds’ 2-0 win in the Asian Champions League over Sydney FC on Wednesday – thought he had given his team the lead after bundling an effort goalwards at the back post.
Reysol goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura pulled off an outrageous save to keep things scoreless, however, flinging himself along his line and palming the ball to safety.
Muto and his teammates’ insisted the ball had crossed the line but referee Masaaki Iemoto ignored their appeals and things remained scoreless.
There was more drama straight after halftime, with Reds once again being denied an opening goal after a controversial call by the referee in the 49th minute.
Tomoya Ugajin showed good footwork to trick his way into the Reds penalty area from the left wing, and Tadanari Lee bundled his cut-back in at the near-post.
Former Kashiwa player Lee wheeled away in celebration as Reysol’s players surrounded Iemoto, but the official eventually decided to rule the effort out for handball.
The visitors channeled their frustration well, though, and finally registered on the scoreboard just three minutes later, as Muto followed up sharply and poked home the rebound after Nakamura had saved an initial attempt from Lee.
“For me, I don’t like to comment on specific players,” Petrovic said.
“The performance of the team as a whole is the most important thing, and that’s why my team always fights as one.
“Muto scored the goal, but several players were involved in the build-up – if Lee hadn’t turned and shot, for instance, then the opportunity wouldn’t have come up.”
Going behind appeared to spark a hitherto rather timid Reysol into life, and they pulled themselves level in the 64th minute after a lightning counter started by the impressive Junya Ito.
The 22-year-old surged through a couple of challenges in the middle of the pitch from right-back and found Diego Oliveira on the right wing, before the Brazilian broke into the penalty area and tried his luck.
Shusaku Nishikawa managed to block his initial effort and a follow-up from Akimi Barada, but was powerless as the ball fell kindly for Hidekazu Otani to lash home.
Reysol then seized the initiative and forced Reds back, with Diego Oliveira relishing his matchup against Tomoaki Makino – who was playing in the center of Reds’ back three as opposed to his usual position on the left – and looking particularly dangerous when in possession.
Hiroki Akino missed the host’s best chance to take the lead, however, heading over a rebound from close range after Ryosuke Yamanaka had headed against the post.
Zlatan was then on hand to make Reysol pay, flicking home a header from Muto’s corner from the right with just six minutes left on the clock.
Elsewhere reigning champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima got its title defense off to a poor start, going down 1-0 at home to Kawasaki Frontale.
Yu Kobayashi struck the only goal of the game in the 84th minute, serving Hajime Moriyasu’s side its second home defeat in five days after it also went down 2-1 to Shandong Luneng in the ACL on Tuesday.