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Monday, Oct. 16, 2006

First-place Urawa extends league lead


SAITAMA (Kyodo) Urawa Reds gave themselves some breathing space at the top of the J. League after a 2-1 home win over lowly Avispa Fukuoka on Sunday.

Defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka broke the deadlock midway through the first half in Saitama and Brazilian striker Washington pounced to finish the job and pull Urawa five points clear of Gamba Osaka.

With seven games remaining, Urawa leads the standings on 61 points with Gamba, who were held to a 1-1 draw by Yokohama F Marinos on Saturday on 56, and Kawasaki Frontale in third on 54.

Defeat for Fukuoka further increased its relegations worries as the result left the squad 11 points adrift of fourth-from-bottom Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who cruised past FC Tokyo 5-2 in the day's other game.

Urawa made a slow start against a team that looked resigned to playing in J-2 next term in a scrappy first period at Komaba Stadium but took a 1-0 lead into the break thanks to a trademark Tanaka header.

Fukuoka conceded a free-kick on the right flank and Alessandro Santos swung the ball into the box for Tanaka to power home his fourth goal in five games at the far post.

The home side appeared content to sit on its one-goal cushion and almost paid the price in the 40th minute when Seiji Koga fired just wide after picking up a misplaced pass from Makoto Hasebe.

Slack marking then afforded Naoya Saeki space to meet Tatsunori Yamagata's cross but the midfielder's header sailed tamely wide.

But, so often the case this season, Guido Buchwald's men moved up a gear after the interval and the game was effectively ended as a contest 45 seconds into the second half.

Tatsuya Tanaka stung Yuichi Mizutani's palms with a fierce drive and Washington was perfectly placed to snap up the rebound and slot home his 19th goal of the campaign.

"That's our sixth win in a row and it puts us in a very good position. But we have to play every game now as though it were a cup final," said Buchwald, Urawa's manager.

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