Urawa Reds picked up an impressive win over old rivals Gamba Osaka on Saturday, cruising to victory and the top of the table…
SAITAMA – Urawa Reds kept themselves in pole position for the J.League second stage title on Saturday, crushing Gamba Osaka 4-0 at Saitama Stadium.
Toshiyuki Takagi set Reds on the way to victory in just the sixth minute, before Yuki Muto doubled their lead five minutes after half time. Tomoya Ugajin added a third in the 83rd minute before substitute Zlatan Ljubijankic added the gloss with three minutes to play.
Reds’ fourth consecutive win also leaves them locked in a tight battle with Kawasaki Frontale for the overall title, putting them top of the combined rankings for a few hours at least with Frontale to play away to Vissel Kobe later Saturday night.
Mihailo Petrovic’s side is already guaranteed a place in the postseason playoffs having ensured a top three finish overall, but the team with the most points combined over the two stages progresses directly to the final.
“For us we’re not looking at anything other than being the yearly champion,” Ugajin said postmatch.
“I think most of the players didn’t even realize we’d already earned a ticket for the playoffs. All we’re targeting is to be this year’s champion, and that enabled us to put in this kind of performance.”
Reds certainly started with intent in front of 43,415 fans in Saitama, flying out of the traps and penning Gamba back in their own half before moving in front after a crisp move in the sixth minute.
Yoshiaki Komai carved in from the right and found Yosuke Kashiwagi lurking on the edge of the box, with the Japan midfielder instantly playing a ball into the area for Muto to cross. Shinzo Koroki couldn’t quite make contact at the near post but Takagi was on hand in the center to tap home.
Urawa continued to dominate possession after moving in front, and Gamba – whose chances of winning the second stage or overtaking Kashima Antlers to earn a playoff spot in the overall rankings were all-but extinguished here – were limited to a tame Shu Kurata shot from range in the 23rd minute, which went straight to Reds goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Muto provided a cushion for Reds in the 50th minute when his effort from just outside the area took a slight deflection off Gamba defender Takaharu Nishino before flying past Masaaki Higashiguchi.
Gamba’s afternoon went from bad to worse nine minutes later when forward Ademilson was shown a straight red card for lashing out at Tomoaki Makino, and Ugajin calmly sidefooted a volley into the net to make it 3-0 in the 83rd minute.
Ljubijankic stabbed home the final goal of the game from close range four minutes later, after fellow substitute Tadanari Lee had kept the ball alive in the penalty area.
The comprehensive win ended Reds’ run of four straight defeats to Gamba, and Petrovic was delighted to finally get the better of his club’s bitter rival.
“We could have won any of the recent games against Gamba too, but if you just look at the results they have all been negative,” he said. “We attacked well but made mistakes in those games and were hit on the counter, so preparing this week we knew we had to be more disciplined here.
“Today we played really aggressively. I think we outdid the opponents in terms of movement too, and were attacking from the outset.”
Elsewhere, the battle for first division survival is also heating up, with Nagoya Grampus and Albirex Niigata both picking up vital victories in their bids to avoid relegation.
Grampus claimed their third win in four games and moved out of the relegation zone for the first time since slipping down to 16th on 9 July by cruising past Avispa Fukuoka 5-0. Kensuke Nagai claimed a hat-trick while Ha Dae-sung and Ryusuke Sakai also found the net.
With their loss, Avispa were assured of filling one of the three relegation spots.
Meanwhile, Koichiro Katafuchi got off to a dream start as Albirex manager as Ryohei Yamazaki scored an 89th minute winner to deliver a 2-1 victory away to Jubilo Iwata and lift them to 14th in the table.