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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Home support inspires Reds against FC Tokyo

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Urawa Reds manager Volker Finke warned he intends to turn Saitama Stadium into a fortress after his side beat FC Tokyo 3-1 on Saturday to collect its first points of the J. League season.

News photo
Hot battle under snow: Montedio Yamagata forward Nobuyuki Zaizen (left) fights Nagoya Grampus midfielder Yoshizumi Ogawa during their J. League match on Saturday at NDsoft Stadium in Yamagata Prefecture. The match ended in a scoreless draw. KYODO PHOTO

Reds had not won a home league match since August going into the game against the capital city team, but a fifth-minute opener from Yuki Abe looked like setting the record straight as Urawa charged out of the blocks.

An own-goal from Keisuke Tsuboi less than 10 minutes later threatened to cloud the issue, but Edmilson restored the home side's lead early in the second half before Robson Ponte made the game safe five minutes before the end.

With a crowd of 50,802 watching from the stands, Finke urged his players to take advantage of a vociferous support unlike any other in the league.

"It was the first game at home, and for me it is very important to get more points at home," he said. "Last season we only got 25 points in this stadium, and that is awful. We have to win at home.

"That is one of my big goals, because these supporters are unbelievably good. That is the most important thing for this club, to stay like this with more than 50,000 supporters. This is the value of this club and we have to keep it."

For a team that perfected the art of making simple things look difficult last season, Reds' first goal was remarkably straightforward. Ponte swung in a corner, and Abe was left free to sweep the ball in with his first touch.

But just as it looked like Tokyo's hangover from its opening-day 4-1 mauling by Albirex Niigata might last all afternoon, Tsuboi provided the tonic. Yuhei Tokunaga delivered a low cross intended for Cabore, and the Reds defender slid in to turn the ball into his own net under pressure from the Brazilian.

The goal shook Urawa's nerves as Tokyo began to create more chances, but Reds upped the tempo to begin the second half and did not have to wait long for their reward. Marcus Tulio Tanaka released Ponte down the right wing, and the Brazilian sent in a cross that Edmilson met with a sliding volley to put Urawa back in front.

Tokyo protested that captain Yasuyuki Konno had been lying prone when the move began, but Reds' momentum had already been checked once, and they were in no mood to let it happen again.

Naohiro Ishikawa thumped a vicious shot against the crossbar to suggest Tokyo had other ideas, but Ponte wrapped up the points with a clean finish from a well-worked move. Tsuboi set the attack in motion as he galloped down the left wing, sending the ball through for substitute Naoki Yamada to lay off for the 2007 J. League player of the year to fire into the net.

Tokyo manager Hiroshi Jofuku had few complaints in defeat.

"It was a fair result," he said. "We spent too much time chasing after the ball rather than keeping hold of it, which wasted all our energy.

"Urawa keep the ball very well, and when they upped the pace it did us a lot of damage."

Elsewhere in the J. League, Gamba Osaka heaped more misery on Jubilo Iwata — beaten 6-2 last week by Montedio Yamagata — with a 4-1 home win. J1 debutant Yamagata maintained its unbeaten start with a 0-0 draw against Nagoya Grampus in a match played in steady snowfall.

Vissel Kobe came from behind to beat hotly tipped Kawasaki Frontale to leave last season's second-place team with only one point from its opening two games, while Oita Trinita notched its first win, 1-0 over Kyoto Sanga.

The Chiba derby between Kashiwa Reysol and JEF United ended 1-1, while Shimizu S-Pulse and Yokohama F. Marinos played out a 0-0 draw.

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