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Review: Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Urawa Reds (J1 MD18)

  • TEAM

Lucas Fernandes and Hayato Okuda's golazo set the stadium abuzz, sent Seiya Maikuma off with a win

Two days after the second round of the Emperor's Cup, Cerezo Osaka returned to the league stage to face Urawa Reds in the 18th round of the Meiji Yasuda J1 League. Manager Akio Kogiku said it was "a big game that will determine our season" against a team that is level on points. One change from the previous league match against Kyoto Sanga F.C. was that Hayato Okuda started at right back in place of Seiya Maikuma, who announced on the 13th that he would be leaving the team to prepare for a move overseas.

The match started in heavy rain right after kick-off, and from the start Cerezo defended with a high press against Urawa's ball possession. However, Urawa managed to break through on several occasions, and in the 12th minute, a fine pass in front of our goal allowed Naoki Maeda to shoot. It was a close call, but the shot went just wide. In attack, the team struggled to connect passes and long balls, but in the 19th minute, a set piece led to a chance. Lucas Fernandes' shot was headed just wide by Leo Ceara. The two sides continued to play out the remainder of the half, with neither side making an effective breakthrough, until Urawa had a chance in the 33rd minute. However, Ryuya Nishio was quick to react to an opponent's shot and blocked it with his body. Towards the end of the first half, Cerezo began to gain momentum and took the lead in the 42nd minute. Fernandes scored directly from a free kick after being fouled by Capixava. It was a long shot, about 30 meters, but "I looked at the goalkeeper's position and thought I could get a shot on target, so I aimed and kicked. I think I was able to curve it well."

With a one-goal lead at the break, Kogiku made a substitution in the second half. Satoki Uejo was introduced in place of Vitor Bueno, who had been somewhat lackluster in both offense and defense. Cerezo, led by the energetic number 7 on both offense and defense, attacked aggressively in the early stages of the second half. In the 48th minute, after a pass from Shunta Tanaka, Ceara shot from deep on the left side past a defender. The goalkeeper made a good save, but Cerezo scored from the resulting corner kick. Fernandes' kick was cleared off the near post, but Okuda was on hand to meet the rebound with a direct right-foot shot from outside the box that was accurate and powerful, and found the top left corner of the net. At the moment the goal was scored, "I panicked myself (laughs). I was bursting with joy," Okuda recalled. Okuda scored a spectacular farewell goal in the final match before his senior at Momoyama Gakuin University, Maikuma, was to leave the team. Okuda's golazo, his first goal in J1, lifted Cerezo's morale and they continued to create chances, with Fernandes shooting wide on the counter in the 51st minute and Nishio having a chance to score from a free kick in the 57th minute, but his header was just wide and he missed a chance to make it three. In the 77th minute, a substitution was made and Urawa came back to score a goal. In the 88th minute, Tatsuya Yamashita replaced Ceara, and the team switched to a 5-4-1 system, with the back line supported and the front line pressed with fresh players to stop Urawa's counterattack. Cerezo held on to their one-goal lead to earn their first home win in the league since the 8th round match against Kawasaki Frontale.

After the match, the entire Cerezo family, including players, staff and supporters, bid farewell to Maikuma as he left for overseas. Uejo presented him with a bouquet of flowers at the end of the ceremony. "I almost cried, but I knew I wouldn't be able to stop if I cried, so I held on (laughs)," he recalled, "I've always seen how stoic Mike (Maikuma) is about soccer, how he always thinks about the team, how he wants to make this team a winner. I hope I can lead the team with that kind of attitude from now on. Maikuma said, "This team is a club that can win a championship. I will pass on my passion to everyone on the team," and the entire team will continue to fight.

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