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Monday, Oct. 29, 2007

Reds appear tired in scoreless draw

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Four days after the high drama and excitement of the Reds' AFC Champions League semifinal shootout victory, a tired-looking Urawa ground out a dour scoreless draw with Nagoya Grampus Eight to move a little closer to the J. League title.

News photo
Urawa Reds midfielder Makoto Hasebe shoots a header during the J. League first-division match against Nagoya Grampus Eight on Sunday at Saitama Stadium 2002. The match ended in a scoreless draw. KYODO PHOTO

It was far from pretty Sunday, Urawa's performance segueing from the workmanlike to the woefully listless, with only a brief flurry of activity late on to excite the 52,314 fans, but it was enough from a team clearly feeling the effects of their Asian endeavors.

"What we achieved this week is good," said Reds coach Holger Osieck. "We extended our lead, qualified for a major final, it is quite an achievement."

Gamba Osaka's loss to Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday meant the Reds moved seven points clear with four games to go. They can win the title away to Kawasaki Frontale on Nov. 10 if Gamba loses against JEF United Chiba the same weekend.

Before that, though, the Reds face Iran's Sepahan in the first leg of the ACL final. They have 10 days to prepare and the break, courtesy of next weekend's Nabisco Cup final, could not have come at a better time.

The squad heads to Dubai for a training camp on Friday before traveling to Iran the day before the game. Osieck said it is touch-and-go whether defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who injured his left leg against Seongnam and didn't play against Nagoya, travels with the squad.

Gamba's best efforts to hand the title on a plate to its rivals — the Osakans lost 3-1 to Shimizu — means Urawa need not stray too far from the conservative to guarantee a second successive league crown.

The Reds never looked like scoring in the first half, but then again neither did Nagoya — and that suited the hosts fine. The only real chance of a spectacularly dull first 45 minutes fell to Frode Johnsen, the Norwegian forcing a decent save from 'keeper Ryota Tsuzuki.

And that, pretty much, was that. Osieck, who usually stalks the technical area, was happy to sit and watch his charges coast toward a no-nonsense point.

The German coach actually did his best to liven things up a touch. Captain Nobuhisa Yamada, who came off with an injury in the AFC Champions League semifinal victory, limped off before the break and on came spark plug striker Tatsuya Tanaka in place of the midfielder.

Unfortunately for Urawa, Yamada's absence proved to be an invitation for Nagoya to attack with gusto as the game restarted. Keisuke Tsuboi denied Johnsen with the striker's leg cocked at point-blank range. The Reds were struggling to get out of their own half much and there appeared to be some tired legs treading the turf.

Sleeves were rolled up, however, with a quarter of an hour to go and the home side began to look the more likely victor. Tanaka burst through and was denied by 'keeper Seigo Narazaki, Robson Ponte curled over a free-kick and then a Washington back-heel released Tadaaki Hirakawa, whose cross forced what seemed like a back pass from a Nagoya defender.

Not so, said the referee to howls of derision from the Urawa fans.

Washington sensed the Reds were now in the ascendancy, which meant he didn't take too kindly to being replaced by Hideki Uchidate with five minutes to go. He made his case to Osieck that he should stay on but off he went nonetheless, shaking his head as he bypassed the bench and stormed down the tunnel.

Frontale dominant

Kawasaki Frontale fired Nabisco Cup final opponent Gamba a warning shot as they geared up for next week's showdown in style with an emphatic 7-0 win on Sunday at FC Tokyo.

North Korean striker Chong Tese ripped the home side to shreds with a hat-trick in a 17-minute spell at Ajinomoto Stadium and one-time Japan defender Yoshinobu Minowa also found the target as Frontale romped into a 4-0 halftime lead.

League-leading scorer Juninho completed the rout four minutes from time with his 19th of the season.

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