Whisper it quietly, but Urawa Reds might soon be dealing with a full-blown crisis.
When they needed desperately to win, Urawa Reds slumped to one of the most stunning defeats in recent J. League history as the Saitama giants were torn apart by second-from-bottom Kashiwa Reysol.
The 4-1 scoreline is only half the story.
Kashiwa’s masterful passing game had the Reds chasing shadows, and when Urawa did pour forward they were hit time and again by Reysol’s incisive counter-attacks.
That the J. League’s second-from-bottom team could so comprehensively inflict defeat upon one of Japan’s biggest clubs is a testament to the competitiveness of the league.
Urawa’s loss was their fifth in succession in league action. Coupled with a recent League Cup exit, the pressure has now been piled on German coach Volker Finke.
Missing Keisuke Tsuboi and captain Keita Suzuki through suspension, the Reds also had to make do without teenage midfield star Naoki Yamada – who limped off injured in Urawa’s most recent 1-0 loss away at Gamba Osaka.
The return of injury-prone Judi Slot playmaker Robson Ponte to the starting eleven did little to inspire, as the Reds found themselves behind midway through the first half thanks to a fabulous Reysol goal.
Former Juntendo University striker Junya Tanaka only made his debut for Kashiwa in a 0-0 draw in the Chiba derby against JEF United last weekend, but the youngster played his part in the opener as his pass was dummied by Yuki Otsu, who then wheeled away from his marker before collecting Popo’s incisive through ball and slotting past Ryota Tsuzuki in the Urawa goal.
Popo was clearly in the mood in front of 38,740 fans at Saitama Stadium, and when the Brazilian played a one-two off a short corner just three minutes later, the Urawa defence was clearly not expecting him to unleash a piledriver that crashed through Tsuzuki’s outstretched fingertips and almost burst the back of the net.
Urawa pulled a goal back through talisman Marcus Tulio Tanaka’s header from a corner – their first goal in five games in all competitions.
But if Reds supporters expected a fightback in the second half, it failed to materalise, as Kashiwa continued to puncture the Urawa defence with calculated counter-attacking football.
Popo missed a golden opportunity to seal proceedings on the hour mark, as his skidding drive flashed agonisingly wide of the far post.
However former Bundesliga coach Finke must have winced at the sight of ex-Bayer Leverkusen striker Franca warming up on the sidelines, and sure enough the agile Brazilian made an immediate impact when he replaced Popo, with Franca hammering home a twenty yard strike just seconds after Reysol had cleared off the line at the other end.
Urawa’s ignominous defeat was sealed when Robson Ponte was dispossessed in midfield, and his former Leverkusen team-mate Franca swiftly released Yuki Otsu, who burst past a tired Tulio before angling his finish across the face of goal and into the bottom corner.
This was a comprehensive defeat for the Reds – who were as lax in defence as they were toothless in attack.
The manner of this defeat will have critics asking questions of coach Finke, and the former Freiburg tactician has an obvious dearth of fresh talent to call upon at his struggling side.
Urawa have now dropped to seventh in the standings on the back of this painful defeat.
Should the Saitama giants miss out on the Asian Champions League for the second year in succession, then Volker Finke may discover that his Japanese journey could be set for an abrupt and unexpected end.
Full August 19 results
Vissel Kobe 1 Kashima Antlers 0
Kyoto Sanga 0 Shimizu S-Pulse 1
JEF United 0 Nagoya Grampus 2
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1 Oita Trinita 0
Montedio Yamagata 1 FC Tokyo 0
Jubilo Iwata 2 Kawasaki Frontale 1
Albirex Niigata 1 Gamba Osaka 2
Yokohama F. Marinos 1 Omiya Ardija 0
Urawa Reds 1 Kashiwa Reysol 4
All top four teams lost, with league leaders Kashima succumbing to new Kobe coach Toshiya Miura and his side. Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse moved into fourth and fifth place respectively on the back of midweek victories on the road.