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Monday, Dec. 6, 2004

Marinos beat Urawa in first leg of J. League final

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Defender Ryuji Kawai powered home a second-half header to give Yokohama F. Marinos a 1-0 win over Urawa Reds in the first leg of the last-ever J. League Championship final on Sunday evening.

News photo
Urawa Reds forward Emerson (right) dribbles the ball as Yokohama F. Marinos defender Naoki Matsuda stretches to stop him during Sunday's J. League championship final, first-leg match at International Stadium Yokohama. The Marinos won 1-0.

Kawai rose to smash home Daisuke Oku's corner in the 67th minute in front of almost 65,000 at International Stadium Yokohama to give the defending champion the edge over his old club ahead of the second leg in Saitama on Saturday.

Very little separated Yokohama and Urawa in league action this year, with two draws during the regular season.

But Yokohama, which claimed a two-stage double last season, enjoyed the better of an absorbing match on a chilly night in the port city and the victory was no more than it deserved.

"We still have one more game left to play. It's a long time since we have scored from a set piece and we have to make improvements for the next game," said Yokohama manager Takeshi Okada.

Yokohama's preparations for its title defense have been hit with a spate of injuries to key players, including first-choice strikers Tatsuhiko Kubo and South Korean star Ahn Jung Hwan.

But Japan Under-23 forward Daisuke Sakata and Norihisa Shimizu both caused Urawa's suspect defense all sorts of problems in the early stages and Sakata was unlucky to see his shot come back off the post after just three minutes.

The alarm bells were ringing at the back again 10 minutes later when goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi made a complete hash of a Dutra free-kick that went just wide.

Still on a high after winning the second stage with 37 points and 40 goals scored in 15 matches, Urawa was in form heading into the match.

But its only chance of any note fell to Tatsuya Tanaka in the 31st minute and his shot was well blocked by the imperious Yuji Nakazawa.

"Yokohama had the edge in the first half but after the break I thought we came out and played aggressively," said Urawa's German manager Guido Buchwald.

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