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Urawa Red Diamonds take one goal advantage into deciding game of J.League season.

Wednesday 30th November 2016
The J.League's conclusion is a mere few days away. The first leg of the overall final has already taken place, Urawa Red Diamonds won away from home, 1-0, to take a slender lead back to the Saitama.

This Wednesday played witness to the first leg of the J.League final, an enthralling game between Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds. Given the nature of the competition, both teams knew nothing would be settled in this game – but a tone could be set for the second and deciding fixture on Saturday.

Despite their poor second stage campaign, Kashima Antlers looked up for this and flirted to take an early lead in the contest. For all his efforts, however, lone striker – Mu Kanazaki couldn't convert any of his shots into a goal. Urawa Reds also found it hard to score in the first half with the teams going in with the scores at 0-0.

Austrian head coach, Mihailo Petrović, may have had stern words with his team during the break considering the manner of how they started the second half. Immediately out of the blocks, Shinzo Koroki continually got forward trying to edge the game his side's way. Tadanari Lee was also pivotal during this phase, being very creative – providing essential balls for driving play forward and in Urawa's favour. Koroki continually made a nuisance of himself, so much so he was fouled in an off-the-ball incident which resulted in a penalty for the visitors.

The veteran, Yūki Abe, stepped up and converted the spot-kick to put the Reds ahead in the 57th minute. The former Leicester City man had given the advantage to his team. Feeling the job was done; the manager was quick to make substitutions – in order to secure the winning position. This came across as inviting to the Antlers at this point, who piled on the pressure.

The last twenty minutes especially were very positive for Kashima, the substitutes had time to influence the game: Gaku Shibasaki and Fabricio both were effective in the build-up play. The latter minutes of the game saw the team go very close to equalising, yet the ball just wasn't going in the back of the net. The final whistle had gone long after time, with Kashima with the upper hand. If games were contested over 100 minutes, if would have been when, not if, they had scored.
Highlights from the first leg.

Throughout the game, Kashima Antlers head coach, Masatada Ishii, was incredibly animated. Notably when he felt his team were due to a penalty as Shoma Doi was impeded in the box. The referee was unmoved and play continued. It was clear to see that Ishii felt a lot of the decisions weren't going his way.

With only the one goal in it, there's still a lot to play for at Saitama on Saturday. Kashima matched Urawa Reds at home, whilst the weekend's game will be contested in a more hostile environment for them – if they can focus on the eleven players against them: they can beat them. With the pendulum not swinging in their favour, it'll force Ishii's hand to go with an attacking team from the off.

Urawa Red Diamonds and their fans will have no interest in playing with a defensive mindset in the last home league game of the season. First of all, they didn't look good at it on Wednesday – and secondly,…it's not their style. They have a huge fan base, one of the biggest in Japan. Why is that? It's because they go out and play, thus, score a lot of goals. They scored an impressive 35 goals in the second stage, the joint highest in the league.

Kashima's need to attack and Urawa's style of play will surely make the J.League final second leg one to watch. Whilst the Antlers are down, don't write them off. In the league season, they went to the Saitama and won, 2-0. If they could repeat that performance and result, they'd overturn the aggregate and take home the trophy.

Should Kashima Antlers win, it'll be their eighth title, but first in seven years. Urawa Red Diamonds are chasing their sixth title – but this would be the first time they have won it since 2006.

The game will be contested on Saturday 3rd of December at 10:30am, UK time.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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