J.League title is heading to Nagoya

J.League title is heading to Nagoya

There may still be four games to go in the season, but the inevitable can no longer be denied.

Nagoya Grampus WILL win the 2010 J.League.

Nakata celebrates his goal for Kashima against Kawasaki

They currently sit eight points clear with four games to go and face two relegation threatened teams (in fact Shonan has already been relegated) in their next two games. They won’t drop enough points to give Kashima a sniff.

Kashima’s last hope came over the weekend when they travelled to Kawasaki and Nagoya hosted Omiya Ardija in what was potentially a banana skin game.

To Kashima’s credit, they held up their end of the bargain with a 2-1 win at Kawasaki.

The Todoroki Stadium was packed to capacity for the clash, with a sea of red occupying one end of the stadium as the Kashima supporters travelled in large numbers for the do-or-die clash.

It didn’t start as they would have hoped, however, when Vitor Junior opened the scoring in the 20th minute to give the home side the lead.

Kashima almost equalised a minute later when star striker Marquinhos attempted an acrobatic scissor kick that just went wide.

The breakthrough did eventually come, seven minutes before the half when a free kick from outwide found Koji Nakata unmarked at the back post.

Kawasaki should have re-gained the lead before half time, but first Vitor Junior and then Tukuro Kajima failed to hit the target with two relatively easy attempts.

They were missed that would come back to haunt Kawasaki mid-way through the second half when Kashima, bizarrely, scored a second.

Mituso Ogasawara played in a delightful ball over the top of the defence for Takuya Nozawa to run on to, however coming the other way was Kawasaki keeper Rikihiro Sugiyama.

The players appeared destined to collide, with a third player, Kawasaki midfielder Kengo Nakamura, also coming into the mix. The three players had a coming together of sorts and somehow the ball managed to roll through the legs of Sugiyama into the back of the net.

Not having touched any of the three players, the goal was credited to Ogasawara.

Kawasaki had a couple of half chances late in the game, but couldn’t make any of them count allowing Kashima to run out 2-1 winners.

The Kashima players and fans then waited anxiously to find out the result of the Nagoya-Omiya game taking place at the same time.

It wasn’t the result either group was after though.

Nagoya players celebrate the winner against Omiya Ardija

Nagoya were missing key players at both ends of the park, with Tulio Tanaka again missing and striker Josh Kennedy also on the sidelines.

The Champions-in-waiting didn’t let that affect them, taking an early lead after just four minutes.

Montenegran midfielder Igor Burzanovic slammed the ball home, after the Omiya defence had failed to deal with the corner situation.

It would be enough to knock the sails out of most teams, but Omiya rallied and started pressing up the other end, twice going within inches of scoring an equaliser.

Their endeavour was rewarded on the half hour mark when Rafael chested the ball down in the box for Naoki Ishihara to slam home the equaliser and stun the vocal home crowd.

But you don’t win Championships with a steely resolve and within ten minutes Nagoya had re-taken the lead through defender Takahiro Masukawa, who headed home from a perfectly taken free kick from Yoshizumi Ogawa.

The match turned even further in Nagoya’s favour just before half time when Korean midfielder Lee Ho crazily lunged in for a tackle from behind just minutes after receiving his first yellow card.

The referee had no other alternative than to show Lee a second yellow card and give him an early shower. After conceding a goal moments earlier, it was the one thing Omiya didn’t need going into half time.

Nagoya enjoyed the lions share of possession in the second half, but couldn’t find a third goal. It mattered little as they held on for a 2-1 win that guaranteed qualification for next year’s AFC Champions League, but more importantly all but guaranteed they will be crowned 2010 J.League Champions.

Gamba Osaka hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in what promised to be a fascinating affair at the Expo ’70 Stadium.

Yasuhito Endo

Sanfrecce clung on to faint hope of claiming an ACL spot, sitting five points behind third place Gamba, knowing a win would take them to within striking distance.

Gamba, on the other hand, knew a win would give them breathing space over the chasing pack in third place.

A defensive mistake from captain Tomokazu Miyojin early on almost gifted Sanfrecce an opening goal but Tadanari Lee blasted the ball over after being found free in the box.

It was a defensive blunder, a howler in fact, that lead to the opening goal. This time it was Sanfrecce gifting Gamba with the opportunity.

A wayward back pass missed its intended target and fell straight to Lee Keun-Ho who had the simplest of finishes past the helpless keeper.

Gamba had some nervy moments after scoring, with Sanfrecce forcing Yosuke Fujigaya into a couple of great saves.

Akira Hishino made a change at half time, opting for more experience up front replacing 18 year-old sensation Takashi Usami with Lucas.

It proved a masterstroke when, on the hour mark, Lucas headed home the decisive second goal.

A free kick from the deadly boot of Yasuhito Endo was put into a dangerous position, but ultimately it was a mistake from Sanfrecce keeper Shusaku Nishikawa who started coming for the ball before stopping that allowed Lucas to score.

Having come half way for the ball, Nishikawa left his goal unguarded and Lucas had little trouble in putting the ball in the back of the net.

Sanfrecce continued to have chance after chance, but Fujigaya was a colossus in goals and kept his clean sheet in tact.

Robson Ponte celebrates the winner for Urawa

Elsewhere on Sunday, Urawa Reds got back to winning ways with a 2-0 win over Kyoto Sanga, a result that condemns Kyoto to relegation and J2 football next season.

FC Tokyo continued to keep their fight for survival alive with a shock 2-1 win at Yokohama F.Marinos. They still have it all to do to stay up, sitting only 2 points above the relegation zone but it is a result that will give the side plenty of confidence ahead of their home clash against Kawasaki next week.

Shonan Bellmare also confirmed their relegation on Saturday when they were thumped by Shimizu S-Pulse 5-0.

Vegalta Sendai faced a tricky match against Jubilo Iwata, who have been in hot form over the last seven weeks. Sendai, however, surprised everyone by cruising to a 3-0 win to all but secure their place in J1 for next season.

Montedio Yamagata and Cerezo Osaka played out an entertaining 3-3 draw, although the Osaka outfit would have been expecting all three points going in. The result leaves them four points behind crosstown rivals, Gamba, in fourth spot.

Vissel Kobe earned a valuable point away to Albirex Niigata in their fight to avoid relegation. They currently sit in 16th spot inside the relegation zone and will battle FC Tokyo to stay up, with both teams facing a tough four weeks to finish off the season.

But the story of the round is Nagoya, who can officially seal the Championship as early as this weekend if they defeat Shonan Bellmare and Kashima drop points at Kobe.

It’s all elementary though as there is now little doubt that Dragan Stojkovic’s men will lift the trophy and be crowned J.League Champions for 2010.

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