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Sunday, Oct. 22, 2006

Frontale holds Reds

Stays in J. League race with 2-2 draw By

Staff writer

SAITAMA -- Boss Guido Buchwald called for his league-leading Urawa Reds side to snuff out Kawasaki Frontale's title challenge before Saturday's home game, but the third-place team refused to bow down in an entertaining 2-2 draw.

News photo
Urawa's Washington, left, nets the first goal of the match in the 20th minute against Kawasaki Frontale at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday afternoon. The J. League-leading Reds drew 2-2 with Frontale. KYODO PHOTO

Washington fired the Reds 1-0 ahead in the 20th minute before a Juninho penalty leveled things up before halftime in front of 50,000 fans at Saitama Stadium.

Kengo Nakamura's stunning header on 50 minutes put the visitors ahead but their lead was short lived as Robson Ponte finished from close range two minutes later.

"I had said before the match that we needed to win today to make it a two-horse race for the title instead of a three-horse one," Buchwald said.

"That didn't happen but it was a good result even though we had two good calls for a penalty turned down and we went close on a few other occasions."

Frontale coach Takashi Sekizuka still believed his side has a shot in the race for the championship.

"We had set out to get three points to help us in the title race, but it was still a very good result for us," Sekizuka said.

"We still have six games left, and the gap between ourselves and Urawa hasn't widened and we still hold hope that we can win the championship."

The draw increased the Reds' unbeaten run in Saitama -- going back to last year -- to 19 games, but it was the first time this season they had conceded two goals at home.

The unusually porous Reds' defense was easily explained: defenders Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Alex Santos were looking distinctly off-color, Alex at mistake for Kawasaki's second goal and Tulio careless in his distribution throughout the match.

Urawa now sits six points clear at the top with 62 points, but second-place Gamba Osaka has the chance to reduce the gap when it plays FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium on Sunday.

Frontale is in third place on 55 points.

Washington scored his 20th league goal in 20 games on 20 minutes with a brilliant finish to put the Reds 1-0 up.

Tulio lofted the ball up from deep to the Brazilian, who turned Hideki Sahara beautifully before curling the ball around 'keeper Shinya Yoshihara from the edge of the area.

Urawa could easily have gone 4-0 up before Frontale had an attack, with Tulio side-footing into the side netting, Nobuhisa Yamada flashing a 30-meter drive over the crossbar and Ponte curling a seemingly innocuous free-kick just past the post.

Sahara also got away with handling the ball in the area, although there was a hint of a push from Washington before the incident and the referee sensibly gave a corner.

After the Urawa chances went begging, Frontale slowly found their way back into the game with Japan international Kazuki Ganaha and Brazilian Juninho proving a handful.

It was Ganaha that was brought down by Norihiro Yamagishi with 10 minutes left in the half to give Frontale the chance to draw level.

Juninho stepped up and comfortably converted the spot-kick and it was now the Reds who were on the back foot.

A flapping Yamagishi nearly turned the ball into his own net minutes later, before the 'keeper gave a more positive contribution to the Urawa cause when he parried a fierce drive from Ganaha before Juninho ballooned the followup.

Frontale did go in front five minutes into the second half after Yusuke Mori highlighted the defensive frailties of Alex with a clever turn before whipping in the cross for Nakamura to direct a wonderful header past Yamagishi for his eighth league goal of the season.

The punishment for Alex was to be hauled off by Buchwald and replaced by Takahito Soma, although the coach said he was worried after the Brazilian-born defender had been cautioned in the first half.

Nakamura's goal stung the Reds back into action, and Ponte equalized two minutes later when Yamada slid an exquisite pass between defenders and the ex-Bayer Leverkusen player got in front of Shuhei Terada and dinked the ball over an advancing Yoshihara.

The introduction of Shinji Ono, whose injury problems are limiting the ex-Feyenoord star to cameos from the bench, sparked the resurgent Reds, but for all the possession they could not find the winning goal.

Ono saw his goal disallowed after Washington was ruled offside before the darling of the Reds crowd blazed over the bar in the final minute, but Frontale held on for a draw that was well deserved.

In other matches Saturday, Yokohama F. Marinos beat Kashima Antlers 2-1 at Nissan Stadium, while JEF United Chiba slumped to a 3-1 defeat at home to Omiya Ardija.

Avispa Fukuoka downed Jubilo Iwata 2-1, Venforet Kofu beat Nagoya Grampus Eight 2-1, Shimizu S-Pulse drew 1-1 with Albirex Niigata and Kyoto Purple Sanga played out a 1-1 draw with Oita Trinita.

In the other game Sunday, Cerezo Osaka plays host to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

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