Urawa Reds hit a hurdle in their Asian Champions League title defense Tuesday, losing 2-0 to visiting South Korean side Pohang Steelers in Group J.
The winner of the clash between current and former Asian champions at Saitama Stadium was guaranteed top spot in the group, with the K League outfit staying undefeated and opening up a five-point lead over Reds thanks to goals from Jeong Jae Hee and Goh Young Jun.
Maciej Skorza's men now have four points from a win, a draw and a loss halfway through the group stage. They enjoyed a significant edge in possession but could not put any of their nine shots on target, compared to seven out of 16 for the visitors.
Jeong volleyed home the opening goal from Kim Seung Dae's ball into the box on a counterattack in the 22nd minute.
Skorza looked to shake things up from the start of the second half by introducing Shoya Nakajima for Kai Shibato and Hiroki Sakai for Takuya Ogiwara, but the visitors continued to cause havoc on the counter and doubled their lead when Goh angled his shot in off the post in the 49th minute.
"Today Pohang was the better team and deserved to win. Especially in the physical aspect, we couldn't do too much," Skorza said.
"We tried to change things with Nakajima, a more offensive midfielder...but even the (substitute) players couldn't change the picture."