2013-03-02 [J League] Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Urawa Reds
Posted by stefanole on 2013/03/02
Sanfrecce were soundly beaten in the 2013 J League opener by arch-rivals Urawa Reds. Though the scoreline was close, Sanfrecce never really threatened before or after MORISAKI Koji’s beautifully lofted free-kick goal on 55′.
Urawa are many commentators’ pick to win the J League this year, which is probably one reason why the J League scheduled this matchup on opening day. Another is the obvious fact that Urawa have made a point of poaching Sanfrecce’s players to supplement their own weaknesses: KASHIWAGI Yosuke in 2010, MAKINO Tomoaki in 2012 (on loan from FC Köln, made permanent in 2013), and MORIWAKI Ryota in 2013. The trio all came up through Sanfrecce’s youth system, but this didn’t seem to instil them with any sense of loyalty. In fact, Moriwaki announced his desire to move to Urawa just days after winning the 2012 J League title with Sanfrecce. Even Urawa’s manager, Mihailo PETROVIC, jumped at Urawa’s offer of a fatter contract after coaching Sanfrecce from 2006-2011, but we don’t care about that so much since Poichi is awesome and there were many in Hiroshima who were glad to see Petrović move on.
These players’ conflicted feelings about Sanfrecce were demonstrated in their awkwardly over-the-top celebrations after scoring (see above). They were clearly obeying Urawa’s motto for the new season, “ALL COME TOGETHER!” (snicker).
Sanfrecce lined up very similarly as in the game against Reysol in the Super Cup, with the exception of TAKAHAGI Yojiro, who was replaced by ISHIHARA Naoki. Takahagi was not on the bench either, and was subbed out after an hour in the match against Bunyodkor, but I haven’t seen an official announcement about his injury (as is common in Japan). Winger Mihael MIKIC was also absent again, and so we have to assume that he is still recovering from the shoulder injury that was mentioned by Poichi in an interview earlier in the week.
The match itself was highly anticipated by fans of both teams, as reflected by the attendance of 27,911 (this was 4,813 less than the 32,724 who turned out for the 2012 home finale against Cerezo Osaka in which a rainbow before the game was an omen of victory for the Purple Archers, but well above the 17,495 average for 2012, the best average attendance and best attendance in one game for Hiroshima since the J League began in 1993). Sanfrecce put out a press release several days before the match to say that SA, SS and Supporter seats had all been sold out. Demand for uniforms was also high, with Sanfrecce stating that they had run out of home jerseys, and only a limited number of away jerseys would be available at the match.
The game built very slowly, as the two teams warily passed and probed for an opportunity. Sanfrecce looked up to the task though, as Urawa’s Makino stopped MORISAKI Koji’s run on goal with a desperate tackle on 15′, which eventually led to a poor Shiotani shot that went very high.
Urawa responded with a Kashiwagi shot on ’21 that went wide. The away side began to pressure Sanfrecce with intelligent build-up play, as they patiently looked for weak points in the Sanfrecce defence. Urawa’s KOROKI Shinzo signalled the danger that Sanfrecce were in by breaking up the left on 27′, but his pass to Moriwaki was lobbed well over the bar from 30 yards. Sanfrecce countered with an almost killer ball by Shiotani from deep right to Ishihara in the penalty area, but again the pass was cut-out by Makino.
HARAGUCHI Genki also signalled his intent on 33′, but his twisting and turning wasn’t enough to confuse Nishikawa and he saved low at his near post. Sanfrecce again countered as Ishihara set up MORISAKI Koji, but he blasted the ball over the bar from distance. He was relatively unmarked though, and should have done better with the best chance of the game so far.
Urawa’s attempts to physically dominate Sanfrecce were dealt something of a blow on 35′, as Moriwaki was booked for fouling Ishihara minutes after Umesaki had gotten away with the same thing. Referee YOSHIDA Toshimitsu missed a golden opportunity to keep the game clean by booking Umesaki the first time, but he chose not to.
As it was, Urawa finally made good on their attacking threat on 38′ as Haraguchi again broke into the Sanfrecce penalty area, and backheeled the ball awkwardly to Kashiwagi, falling into two defenders in the process. This bowling ball approach left Kashiwagi clear to shoot from 8 yards, and he managed to beat Nishikawa at his near-post. It was a disappointing goal to concede, especially as Nishikawa should not have been beaten at his near post, but Urawa had been dominating the game more and more up to that point.
Halftime came and went with no visible reaction from the manager or the players, the the second half continued much as the first had left off. It wasn’t too much of a surprise then when disaster struck again for Sanfrecce on 52′, as a very tame Haraguchi shot was spilled into his own goal by Nishikawa. @sebinomics commented that Nishikawa’s positioning was very good in this game, but this is small comfort when his ball-stopping fundamentals were so lacking.
Sanfrecce enjoyed a glimmer of hope on 55′ though, as a free-kick was beautifully converted by Koji as he floated it over the wall and into the goal off the underside of the crossbar, leaving the Urawa keeper with no hope of saving it. Sanfrecce tried to press the advantage on 66′ as Hisato almost played Chiba in on goal, but it was called offside.
Both sides began making substitutions around this point, with YAMAGISHI Satoru and NOTSUDA Gakuto replacing Ishikawa and Ishihara, but the substitutions were more disruptive than contributive for Sanfrecce. Umesaki threatened the Sanfrecce goal on 69′, and should have done better with the space he was given, but he shot high and wide.
Sanfrecce did not really threaten again until it was almost too late, with Shiotani combining with rookie Notsuda (5 appearances for 26 minutes for the senior team in 2012 as a Sanfrecce Youth player) to cross for Hisato, but the ball was scrambled behind for a corner. Umesaki was finally booked on 83′ after hacking down Shimizu as he surged forward, but the Koji free kick was punched away. Umesaki had earned three yellows during this game, but was given only one. His disruptive fouling should have been spotted and dealt with much earlier by Yoshida.
The home side continued their desperate bid to save the match on 88′ as Shimizu’s shot almost squeezed through the Urawa keeper’s legs, but Kato was able to hang on. Sanfrecce’s exertions were leaving holes in the defence though, with Shiotani sliding to block an Umesaki shot on 90+1′, and Urawa should have wrapped it up on 90+3′ as they broke away with five players against the two Sanfrecce defenders who had stayed behind, but Nishikawa was up to the task this time and kept Urawa out until fulltime.
In summary, the match was disappointing in that you would have had difficulty picking Hiroshima as the home team. Urawa played with purpose and precision, and with enough “teeth” (i.e. unpunished or under-punished fouls, specifically from Umesaki) to keep Sanfrecce off-balance. Unless they can find their stride, and lift their spirits and their performance, Sanfrecce will struggle to defend their title against this quality of opposition.
Scorers: Morisaki Koji 55′ / Kashiwagi 38′, Haraguchi 38.
90 Minutes Asia video: