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Saturday, Oct. 21, 2006

Reds in position to put Frontale away in J. League title race


Staff writer

SAITAMA -- Urawa's Guido Buchwald and Marcus Tulio Tanaka might have different points of view on the importance of Saturday's game against Kawasaki Frontale, but they agree on one thing.

If the Reds win, they'll have one hand on the J. League title.

"In my opinion, the next game is the most important of the season with regard to our championship ambitions," Japan international Tulio said after training earlier this week.

"Our concentration will have to be very high."

But Reds coach Buchwald believes third-place Frontale has more to lose than Urawa in the high-stakes clash at Saitama Stadium.

"The last game of the season against Gamba Osaka and the game against Frontale is the same situation -- if not a more difficult situation for us," Buchwald said.

"It is a big game against Frontale, but it is as important for them as it is for us because they must win this game to stay in the title race.

"If we win the game, then I'm sure Frontale will have no chance of the championship because we will be 10 points ahead."

With seven games left, the Reds are five points ahead of second-place Gamba and seven clear of Frontale at the top of the league.

Central defender Tulio is aware the Reds' fanatical home support will give his teammates the edge against a Frontale side more used to the modest surroundings and less vocal fans at Todoroki Stadium.

"The fans give us extra power at home, so much so we don't fear any opponent there," the 25-year-old said.

Urawa has gone 18 games undefeated at home -- a run that goes back to last season -- and this season has conceded only four goals while scoring 30 in Saitama.

"That shows what kind of advantage we have at home. We are invincible there," Tulio said.

The rugged defender is not taking anything for granted, though, with the 2-1 win against minnows Avispa Fukuoka last Sunday still fresh in his mind, when Mitsunori Yabuta's late goal ensured a nervy end for the Reds.

"We can't fall into the trap of underestimating an opponent. That (the late goal against Fukuoka) was a horrible mistake. If we repeat it, we won't win the championship. We've got to fix the problem," he said.

For Buchwald, Urawa's position at the top of the pile is no surprise and the German is confident he has a strong enough set of players to win the club's first J. League title.

"I have always thought about the championship, not just now, but before the season started, and now it is a good situation for us. It is a tough schedule, but I'm sure we have a good enough team, a good mentality and enough power," Buchwald said.

Urawa faces a resurgent Jubilo Iwata, Yokohama F. Marinos, FC Tokyo, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Ventforet Kofu before playing last year's league champion, Gamba, on the last day of the season, and Buchwald insists there are no easy rides the rest of the way.

"Is Kofu an easy game?" Buchwald said. "What is easy? We won against Avispa only 2-1. It was a tough game and I think at the end of the season all games are tough games, because everyone has a target."



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