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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feisty Reds, patient Gamba play to scoreless draw

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka canceled each other out in a 0-0 draw on Saturday as Kashima Antlers pulled clear at the top of the J. League table.

News photo
Up in the air: Gamba Osaka forward Cho Jae Jin (left) fights Urawa Reds defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka for the ball in the air during their J. League match on Saturday at Saitama Stadium 2002. The match ended in a scoreless draw. KYODO PHOTO

Reds had the better chances in an absorbing chess match between the current and previous Asian Champions League winners at Saitama Stadium, but neither side was able to make the breakthrough to keep pace with Antlers, who won 2-1 at Kashiwa Reysol later in the day.

Gamba was not helped by a hamstring injury that forced Brazilian striker Leandro's substitution in the 41st minute, but manager Akira Nishino was pleased with the way his team stood up to the setback.

"It was a very tough match, and we couldn't really play our possession game," he said. "Reds pressed hard, and we knew we would have to work hard in defense. We needed everyone helping out at the back.

"We don't like playing defensively. We didn't want to play for a draw — we wanted to settle it. But we didn't get so many chances, so it's not such a bad result."

Urawa manager Volker Finke was also satisfied, despite slipping two points behind Kashima having played a game more.

"Sometimes when there is no win at home you are very disappointed, but not today," he said. "I was very happy to see that this team had many chances.

"They are not only running, they are playing football. They always try to make the next pass, so I think for the development of this team it is OK."

Reds' energy was too much for a surprisingly casual Gamba in the early stages of the match, and Edmilson missed an opportunity to capitalize when he blasted a Genki Haraguchi through-ball into the side-netting as early as the fourth minute.

But a counterattack that ended with Leandro firing narrowly over the bar midway through the first half settled Gamba's nerves, and before long Yasuhito Endo was dictating the pace in midfield with Hayato Sasaki looking dangerous alongside him.

Gamba goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya nudged a Naoki Yamada shot against the post as Reds redoubled their efforts before the break, but Tomokazu Myojin hit the bar for the visitors minutes after the interval as both teams continued to create chances.

Yamada went even closer to breaking the deadlock when he curled a shot against the crossbar in the 65th minute, and Edmilson fired wide 10 minutes later as the match entered the closing stages on a knife edge.

Neither side was able to finish the job as the defenses held firm, but Finke had few complaints given the caliber of the opposition.

"I think Gamba play at a very high level," he said. "They try to pass and pass, so I think this was one of the best games I have seen in the J. League. Gamba can always bring you danger, so I think we can live with this draw."

A Shinzo Koroki double gave Antlers an early 2-0 lead at Hitachi Stadium, and although Yuki Otsu's 51st-minute reply wasn't enough to stop Kashima from taking all three points, a red card for captain Mitsuo Ogasawara soured the victory for Oswaldo Oliveira's league leaders.

Earlier in the day, Davi rescued a point for Nagoya Grampus with an 82nd-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Omiya Ardija, while Kawasaki Frontale also left it late to beat Jubilo Iwata 2-0.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Montedio Yamagata 3-1, while in the day's late games, FC Tokyo beat Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 and Shimizu S-Pulse defeated Oita Trinita 3-1 to consign Oita to its ninth successive defeat 3-1.

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