26
May
21

Reds gain great Dane

It is still early days, but with four goals in his first three J1 games for Urawa Reds Kasper Junker looks like he has everything needed to make a real name for himself in Saitama… (日本語版)

All eyes were on Saitama Stadium on Saturday with Vissel Kobe and, fresh from the announcement of his two-year contract extension, Andres Iniesta in town to face Urawa Reds.

The Spain legend completed 90 minutes in the league for the first time since Vissel’s 2-0 home defeat against Shonan Bellmare last November, and despite showing his age in some respects did offer flashes of his enduring brilliance on the ball as he and his side fell to another, slightly unfortunate, 2-0 loss.

The former Barcelona man may have offered up some sublime touches and passes on his return to Vissel’s starting line-up, but his wasn’t the European name on everyone lips come full time, with Urawa’s new signing Kasper Junker again claiming the spotlight.

The 27-year-old was a menace in the final third of the pitch from the first minute to the 90th – when he was substituted off to rapturous applause from the 4,917 fans in attendance – leading the home side’s charge by harrying from the front, instigating attacks with surging runs, and showcasing his intelligent movement by getting into some very dangerous positions. Oh, and, as we are already becoming accustomed to, by scoring.

His goal here, a controlled effort steered home with his left foot from close range after Daigo Nishi’s hopeful lump into the area somehow found it’s way to him unmarked at the back post, was the Dane’s fourth in his first three league games for Reds, already making him the team’s top scorer.

“He’s scoring goals to help the team and getting into the right positions at the right times,” Urawa manager Ricardo Rodriguez said after the game. “It’s not just that though, and his all round performances have been really good.

“New signings need time to adapt, but especially in the second half today we saw he is also doing what is expected of him in a defensive sense as well. It’s really important that he has been able fit in so well with the team, and I’m sure he will keep improving. His goals really help the team and I’m confident he’ll keep contributing in that way.”

For the best part of a decade Urawa’s scoring burden has rested on the shoulders – or, more precisely, in the boots – of Shinzo Koroki. One of the most natural finishers the J.League has ever seen, Koroki has racked up double figures in each of the last nine seasons (eight with Urawa and one with Kashima Antlers), but in the last three years the only one of his teammates to also get beyond 10 goals was Leonardo last year, when the Brazilian led Reds’ ranking with 11. Their second top scorer in 2019 was Kazuki Nagasawa with just three, while Yuki Muto followed Koroki with seven in 2018.

The early signs are that Junker will be more than capable of sharing the responsibility in front of goal though, as well as fulfilling the high-pressing role Rodriguez demands of his forwards.

“I think my strengths are my speed and my positioning inside the penalty area,” Junker said at his unveiling at the end of April. “My left foot shots also stand out, but I don’t just score goals and I think while finding the net myself I will also be able to provide assists for my teammates in order to contribute to the team.

“I think I am at the ideal age right now. As a striker I feel I’m approaching my peak, but I know I still have plenty of room for improvement and am confident I can keep raising the level of my performance as I take this step up. I want to play here for a long time. Football is life itself for me, and I want to keep going for a long time.”

He certainly demonstrated that enthusiasm against Vissel, eagerly closing down Thomas Vermaelen and Ryuho Kikuchi when the visitors’ centre-backs were in possession, urging his teammates forward in support of attacks, and also looking to create opportunities from deeper-lying positions.

Indeed, the chance from which he got his name on the scoresheet actually came about after one of these plays from midfield, and after receiving the ball 30 yards inside his own half he nutmegged Ayub Masika, opened his legs to eat up the space in front of him, and then chipped in behind for Yoshio Koizumi. This pass was ultimately too far ahead of his teammate, but Kobe made a mess of things once in possession and surrendered a soft corner, and after also failing to clear that properly the ball found itself being cushioned home by Junker’s left boot.

He won’t always be handed goals quite so easily, but the clinical way he dispatched the chance served another warning to the rest of J1 that Reds’ new No.7 is the real deal.


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