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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Reds down Shenhua, stay atop group


Staff writer

SAITAMA -- An early attacking flurry had promised goals aplenty for Urawa Reds but their victory margin over Shanghai Shenhua was limited to a solitary Yuki Abe header just before halftime in their AFC Champions League Group E match on Wednesday evening.

News photo
Urawa Reds Midfielder Yuki Abe dribbles during the Asian Champions League match against Shanghai Shenhua of China on Wednesday at Saitama Stadium 2002. Reds won 1-0. KYODO PHOTO

Abe climbed well to direct Robson Ponte's free-kick past 'keeper Wang Dalei on 42 minutes, but after a lively beginning and opening goal the floodgates remained resolutely shut and the game fizzled out under relentless rain to the chagrin of 28,828 fans at Saitama Stadium.

Less than 24 hours after the Mighty Reds of another football-fanatical city north of the capital had walloped the white-clad visitors 7-1 in their own continental competition, Urawa's opening forays forward suggested a carbon copy was in the offing. It could have been 4-0 after 10 minutes.

Alas, it wasn't to be. Yuichiro Nagai scuffed wide with the first chance, less than a minute in. Wang turned Abe's long-range effort around the post. Washington saw his stubbed effort saved after the Brazilian's pirouette bamboozled Chang Lin, before the striker saw his outrageous chipped effort from 25 meters land on top of the bar.

After the storm a relative calm descended, much to do with the Shanghai players dropping like flies at the slightest touch. The time wasting was a little unpalatable for the home crowd, even though the Reds are not averse to the unsavory practice in domestic competition. Even so, it took the sting out of the Reds' attack.

The Shanghai players paid for their cynicism near the end of the half, though. Zheng Kewei fouled Nobuhisa Yamada and was carried to the sidelines on a stretcher. But before Zheng could return to the pitch, Ponte curled in a swirling free-kick which Abe met with a firm header.

Reds coach Holger Osieck dismissed suggestions his players tired in the second half.

"Throughout the game the players were able to create lots of chances where they could have scored," said Osieck. "And in the second half I felt my players were extremely focused and were able to make it through the game (with the lead intact).

"I didn't think my players seemed tired. In fact I feel my players are in good shape. During the second half, the Chinese came at us with a lot of force and in order to match that we made a couple of substitutions."

The win gives Reds seven points, after victory over Persik Kediri and a draw away to Sydney FC. Shanghai is still to get off the mark and remains rooted to the bottom of the group. A heavily waterlogged pitch put paid to Persik hosting Sydney in the other group match.

Elsewhere, in Group F, Kawasaki Frontale won 3-1 away to Chunnam Dragons, Juninho scoring either side of a Magnum strike and Kang Min Soo scoring a consolation.

In Saitama, Shanghai had little say in matters before the break, although threatened intermittently thereafter. It was a game the Reds had staked a claim on from the get-go. They knew it; Shanghai was resigned to it, which made for some tedious viewing in the latter stages. Manchester United versus Roma it certainly was not, a shame for a match that had initially promised so much.

"I feel we marked some good players today but I do think for the next games we will try to do things differently," Shanghai coach Osvaldo Gimenez said. "I thought, though, my players' attitude was very positive. I don't think there is a big difference between the Japanese and Chinese players, but perhaps the Japanese have more physical strength."



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