It's been almost a year in coming, but Urawa Reds finally took possession of the top of the J. League standings following one of their best performances under German coach Volker Finke.
The J. League giants brushed aside Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 in front of 46,313 supporters at Saitama Stadium, with early goals from midfielder Hajime Hosogai and diminutive striker Tatsuya Tanaka setting the home team on their way.
Hosogai took advantage of some poor Kawasaki defending to chest a loose ball down on the edge of the penalty area, and while he directed his half-volley straight at Eiji Kawashima, the Japan no. 2 could only manage to deflect the ball into the top corner on its way in.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors soon after, as Tatsuya Tanaka embarked on a mazy run from midfield before unleashing a piledriver that flashed into the top corner of the goal, with the superb strike no doubt putting Japan coach Takeshi Okada on notice.
With talisman Kengo Nakamura on the bench as he continued his recovery from a broken jaw, Kawasaki almost cut the deficit as Masaru Kurotsu's long-range strike looped off a defender and clattered against the post.
The Kanagawa side went even closer just minutes later as defender Yusuke Igawa bundled home, only to have his effort incorrectly ruled out for offside.
In what was the most highly-charged of encounters, Kawasaki though they had found a way back into the game shortly after the restart, as they were awarded a penalty following Wilfried Sanou's clumsy foul on North Korean international Chong Tese.
However Urawa goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi proved tough to beat from twelve yards, as he guessed correctly to fling himself to his right and keep out Renatinho's low spot-kick.
The stage was set for a final Urawa goal and it came from the unlikeliest of sources, as substitute Satoshi Horinouchi tapped home after Kawashima could only parry Edmilson's curling right-foot strike.
"I think we're on the right track, regardless of what anyone thinks and today's result and performance back that up," Urawa coach Finke told The Daily Yomiuri after the match.
"The two early goals certainly helped and I think given the way we were playing, the third goal was just a matter of time."
Urawa leapfrogged Shimizu S-Pulse into top spot in the standings, although the Shizuoka side remain the only unbeaten team left following their 1-1 draw away at Gamba Osaka on Saturday.
Veteran Gamba midfielder Tomokazu Myojin opened the scoring for the Kansai side at a packed Expo '70 Stadium in Osaka, however Japan striker Shinji Okazaki equalised with a deflected effort midway through the second half.
Relegated sides Kashiwa Reysol, Oita Trinita and JEF United have all made bright starts to life in the second tier, with Kashiwa looking the team to beat after seven rounds of action.
Brazilian coach Nelsinho's team are the only unbeaten side left in the division, after the Sun Kings comfortably dispatched of Sagan Tosu 2-0 at Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium in Chiba.
Oita Trinita thumped Thespa Kusatsu 3-1 away from home, however JEF United slumped to a disappointing 2-1 loss in front of more than 7,500 fans at Momotaro Stadium in the west of Japan, as the visitors went down 2-1 away at Fagiano Okayama.
The Shikoku derby finished scoreless - to the disappointment of the 11,115 fans who turned out at Pocari Sweat Stadium - with local rivals Tokushima Vortis and Ehime FC forced to share the spoils in a hard-fought encounter.
Kashiwa Reysol lead the nascent standings from Oita Trinita, with surprise package Roasso Kumamoto currently lying in third place in the table.
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