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Saturday, March 8, 2008

J. LEAGUE 2008


Urawa Reds

Staff writer

Last season: second

The Asian Champions League was the No. 1 objective for Urawa last season, and with that monkey successfully off their back, Reds can now set about wresting "their" J. League title back from Antlers.

A humiliating collapse during last season's championship run will only strengthen Reds' resolve, and after making a number of canny acquisitions during the offseason, Holger Osieck's side is in clear pole position on the starting grid.

Inspirational striker Washington has departed, but he has been replaced with quality. Naohiro Takahara, at the peak age of 28 and with a wealth of experience under his belt, should feast on inferior defenses, and the attack has been further bolstered by the arrival of Edmilson from Albirex Niigata.

Young talent Tsukasa Umesaki will add spark to the midfield if he gets his chance, but it is the established players who will lay the bedrock of Urawa's title challenge.

Keita Suzuki and Yuki Abe set the tempo in midfield, and team leader Marcus Tulio Tanaka will again be a force if he manages to stay out of the treatment room.

Ominously for Urawa's opponents, fringe players such as Hajime Hosogai, Tadaaki Hirakawa and Hideki Uchidate all performed well when called upon last season, and no other club has anywhere near the same depth of this squad.

Dressing room harmony may also benefit without Washington's tantrums, but one cloud looms.

With Shinji Ono and Makoto Hasebe departed, and Robson Ponte still injured, who will shape the bullets for Takahara to fire?

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