Monday 28 November 2011

J. League set for three-way title battle on final Saturday

The J. League title battle will go down to a three-way shootout on the final day after leaders Kashiwa Reysol were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Cerezo Osaka on Saturday afternoon.

After a goalless, error-strewn first half, the hosts had their status as championship favourites severely threatened when Cerezo took the lead three minutes into the second period. A Hiroyuki Omata corner from the left-hand side was headed on by Hiroshi Kiyotake for the unmarked Taikai Uemoto to fire in from six yards.

The goal sparked Kashiwa into life, with Koki Mizuno firing narrowly over and Junya Tanaka hitting the post as the players in yellow piled forwards in search of an equaliser. It finally arrived on 65 minutes; Tanaka laying the ball off for Leandro Domingues to slot home from inside the D.

Reysol were unable to find a winner but the draw at least allowed them to escape with a one-point lead over second-placed Nagoya Grampus, who ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at home to bottom side Montedio Yamagata.

All three goals arrived in the first half as the result of Jungo Fujimoto set pieces – Joshua Kennedy heading home a corner for his 19th league goal of the season on just seven minutes, before Marcus Tulio Tanaka was first to get a head, then a foot to two long-range free kicks in eight minutes before the interval.

Gamba Osaka retained their hopes of glory in third position with a tense 1-0 victory over Vegalta Sendai. South Korean forward Lee Keun-Ho scored the only goal with a header from Hiroki Fujiharu’s cross, but Gamba were given several scares in the dying minutes – Diego heading over a glorious opportunity from close range before young defender Kim Jung-Ya got in a terrific block to deny Yuki Muto.

Each of the three contenders face tricky away fixtures next Saturday, with Kashiwa travelling to Urawa Reds in search of the three points that will guarantee them a historic title in their first season since promotion from J2.

Any slip-up would let in Nagoya if they can win at Albirex Niigata, while Gamba will be on hand to climb two positions if both of their rivals drop points and they can clinch victory at Shimizu S-Pulse.


Ventforet Kofu’s relegation back to the second division after just one season was all but confirmed when closest rivals Urawa carved out a narrow 2-1 victory away to already-relegated Avispa Fukuoka.

A 32nd-minute opener from the edge of the box by Hideya Okamoto had the Reds on the ropes, but momentum was recovered when Japan midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi equalised with the help of a deflection right on half time.

Toshiya Suemoto then saw red for a tug on Tsukasa Umesaki just after the hour mark, presenting Marcio Richardes with the opportunity to give Urawa the lead from the spot. The Brazilian made no mistake and the visitors saw the game out to move to the brink of safety.

Kofu’s spirits appeared unaffected as they then thumped Niigata 3-0 on Sunday afternoon, despite the absence through suspension of top scorer Mike Havenaar, thanks to goals from Atsushi Katagiri, Yuji Yabu, and Yoshifumi Kashiwa. Their chances of survival, however, will depend upon an improbable 14-goal swing on the final day as Urawa enjoy a three-point cushion and a comfortably superior goal difference.

Elsewhere, Juninho said farewell to the Kawasaki Frontale fans who have worshipped him for nine years with two goals in a 3-0 victory over Kanagawa neighbours Yokohama F Marinos.

Kashima Antlers held onto sixth place after beating Shimizu by a similar scoreline, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima moved up to seventh with a 4-2 win against Omiya Ardija. Vissel Kobe beat Jubilo Iwata 3-1 to leapfrog their opponents into eighth.

- The Japanese men’s Olympic side moved a step closer to a place in London next year with victories over Bahrain and Syria in Asian qualification. Yuki Otsu of Borussia Mönchengladbach was the hero with goals in each match.
- Sagan Tosu virtually assured their place in J1 next season with a 3-0 thrashing of Tokushima Vortis, who slip out of the final promotion berth behind Consadole Sapporo on goal difference with one match to play.

The Football Japan Minutecast’s Ben Mabley tells the story of Japanese club football through eight previous thrilling title races in Issue Three of The Blizzard, which is out later this week. Visit for details.

J1 results (matchday 33)
Kashima Antlers 3-0 Shimizu S-Pulse
Kashiwa Reysol 1-1 Cerezo Osaka
Kawasaki Frontale 3-0 Yokohama F Marinos
Nagoya Grampus 3-0 Montedio Yamagata
Gamba Osaka 1-0 Vegalta Sendai
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-2 Omiya Ardija
Avispa Fukuoka 1-2 Urawa Reds
Ventforet Kofu 3-0 Albirex Niigata
Vissel Kobe 3-1 Jubilo Iwata

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