Urawa Reds just about sealed first place in the overall rankings in J1 on Thursday, drawing 1-1 draw with Yokohama F.Marinos to finish two points ahead of Kawasaki Frontale…
SAITAMA – Urawa Reds booked itself a place in the final of the J.League playoffs in front of a bumper 56,841 crowd on Thursday, despite being held to a 1-1 draw by Yokohama F.Marinos.
Japan midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi gave Reds the lead in the 66th minute, but Marinos substitute Quenten Martinus equalized in the 85th to make for a nervy end to the game for Mihailo Petrovic’s side.
Even so, Reds hung onto top spot in the overall rankings and earned a bye direct to the two-legged final as closest challenger Kawasaki Frontale surrendered a two-goal lead to lose 3-2 at home to Gamba Osaka.
“Our target was to finish the season at the top of the table and I’m delighted we were able to achieve that,” Kashiwagi said.
“Last year we weren’t able to make it to the final,” he added with reference to Reds’ loss to Gamba in the 2015 semifinal. “Now we want to make sure we win both matches in order to become the champion.”
Had Frontale beaten Gamba they would have leapfrogged Reds, but despite establishing a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Tatsuya Hasegawa and Koji Miyoshi, they conceded three times in 12 second half minutes to finish on 72 points, two behind Urawa.
They will now face a semifinal bout against third-placed Kashima Antlers in the postseason Championship series on Nov. 23.
Back in Saitama, Reds started the brighter of the two sides and Shinzo Koroki headed the first chance of the game wide in the 8th minute.
Reds continued to dominate possession for the remainder of the first half, and Toshiyuki Takagi went closest to opening the scoring with a couple of decent efforts, one of which was headed off the line by Park Jeong-su in the 30th minute.
Reds came out with extra impetus at the start of the second half and almost took the lead in the 48th minute, as Wataru Endo tested Tetsuya Enomoto from close range after a Kashiwagi corner.
Manabu Saito fired a warning shot for Marinos in the 51st minute, but his effort was blocked by a combination of Takagi and Shusaku Nishikawa.
Reds began to turn the screw in the final half hour, with Takahiro Sekine and Tadanari Lee both drawing saves from Enomoto, and the home side’s superiority was rewarded in the 66th minute.
Sekine drew yet another stop from Enomoto after a tidy passing move, but Kashiwagi made no mistake with the rebound, slamming home from inside the six yard box.
Martinus made Reds sweat on their fate as the clock ticked down, racing onto a through ball from Sho Ito and converting in style to equalize with five minutes to play, but the scoring ended there and Reds’ point was enough to keep them top.
Elsewhere, Nagoya Grampus was relegated for the first time after losing 3-1 at home to Shonan Bellmare. That let Albirex Niigata off the hook after its 1-0 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, as well as Ventforet Kofu, which lost 1-0 to Sagan Tosu.
Meanwhile, Jubilo Iwata made sure of its survival with a 1-0 win away to Vegalta Sendai, Kashima lost 1-0 to Vissel Kobe, Omiya Ardija went down 1-0 to FC Tokyo, and Kashiwa Reysol hammered Avispa Fukuoka 4-0.