Monday 01 November 2010

Grampus on the brink of glory as relegation battlers raise stakes



Nagoya Grampus took a major step towards their first ever J. League title with a controversial 1-0 victory over Cerezo Osaka as both Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka suffered shock defeats.

A crowd of 24,061 at the Toyota Stadium witnessed a lively start to a Saturday lunchtime encounter that pitched first against fourth, with both sides showing plenty of attacking intent until the game’s decisive incident on 28 minutes. Joshua Kennedy fell dramatically to the ground after a tussle with defender Taikai Uemoto in the penalty area, and despite vociferous Cerezo protests, the Australian held his nerve from the spot to extend his personal scoring record for the season to 16.

The visitors dominated much of the second half in search of an equaliser to prolong their own championship hopes, but were repeatedly denied by a stubborn Grampus defence and an inspired performance from Seigo Narazaki in goal. Takashi Inui came closest to a breakthrough when his curling shot struck the crossbar.

Cerezo boss Levir Culpi could barely contain his anger at the final whistle, declaring live on satellite television that his team had been “beaten by the referee” and “would have won with any other official”.

As has been a common feature throughout the latter part of this campaign, Grampus were then able to sit back and watch their nearest rivals implode in unexpected fashion. Third-placed Gamba were humiliated in a 4-2 home defeat to third-from-bottom Vissel Kobe later on Saturday despite leading twice, while Kashima lost 2-1 at Albirex Niigata on Sunday thanks to a last-minute strike from Isao Homma.

The results leave the Nagoya club with an 11-point advantage over Kashima and Gamba with just six games remaining. The biggest lead ever to have been overcome this late in the season was ten points, when an Urawa Reds collapse over the final five matches let the Antlers in for the first of their three straight titles in 2007.

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Montedio Yamagata and Vegalta Sendai each took a major step toward ensuring their survival with respective 1-0 wins over Urawa and Kyoto Sanga, while FC Tokyo remained two points clear of danger despite Kobe’s victory after winning 2-1 at Shimizu S-Pulse. The missed opportunity to close in on the Asian Champions League places was followed by the announcement that Kenta Hasegawa will step down as manager of Shimizu after six years at the end of the season.

Elsewhere, Kawasaki Frontale leapfrogged Cerezo into fourth despite only drawing 1-1 at home to Jubilo Iwata, while Yokohama F Marinos moved level on 45 points with Cerezo and S-Pulse after coming from behind to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1.

Omiya Ardija are now just two points outside the drop zone in 15th position after their trip to bottom club Shonan Bellmare was postponed due to disruption caused by Typhoon Chaba.


J1 results (matchday 28)
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Kyoto Sanga
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-2 FC Tokyo
Nagoya Grampus 1-0 Cerezo Osaka
Urawa Reds 0-1 Montedio Yamagata
Kawasaki Frontale 1-1 Jubilo Iwata
Gamba Osaka 2-4 Vissel Kobe
Shonan Bellmare P-P Omiya Ardija
Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Albirex Niigata 2-1 Kashima Antlers



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