Sanfrecce edge clear

Sanfrecce edge clear

By Anthony D

With the league having another break this coming weekend to make way for international fixtures, Round 31 of the J. League was played last night.

Golden Boot leader Hisato Sato helped Sanfrecce edge two point clear at the top of the J. League

Surprisingly good crowds turned out on a chilly autumn night to witness games that produced, finally, some movement on the league table that might provide an insight as to the standings at the end of the season.

For some, form slumps continued and for once the other teams capitalised on the opportunity presented to them. Chief of the beneficiaries was Sanfrecce Hiroshima who got out to a quick two goal lead over Consadole Sapporo but took until the last minutes of the match to make it to the final three-nil scoreline.

Hisato Sato added one to his season’s tally - the league’s top scorer now with 21 and more importantly Sanfrecce put the pressure on Sendai by taking all three points on offer.

Vegalta Sendai hosted Cerezo Osaka in a somewhat controversial match, but it was the lowly 11th placed visitors who took the lead on the hour mark after stand-out performer Yoichiro Kakitani ran in behind Sendai’s last line of defence to latch onto a through-ball, making no mistake as he slotted it back past keeper Hayashi.

The match took a couple of controversial turns with Cerezo having both a player and their coach, Levir Culpi ejected. Firstly, Ryuji Bando earning a second yellow card and was sent-off for time-wasting in the 88th minute. Two minutes later the title-aspirants equalised through a header from Naoki Sugai. During an unexpectedly long injury period, Culpi was also shown his marching orders after coming onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee for not calling the game over.

A lucky point for Sendai but their stumble means Hiroshima have once more opened up a two-point gap at the top of the table. With only three games left, it could prove decisive. Vegalta weren’t alone in tripping up, however.

Shimizu S-Pulse, coming off their loss to Kashima Antlers in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup last weekend, were flat and seemed to fall asleep against Albirex Niigata. From a corner in the 59th minute, Albirex’s Naoki Ishikawa was first to react to a ball that popped up from the contest in the middle of the box, nodding it home all too easily at the back post.

At Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki, Urawa took an early lead through Yosuke Kashiwagi, but Frontale’s Renato stole the show netting the next three including a cracker of a free kick from twenty-plus yards. Tomoaki Makino made it a contest again with the Reds’ second goal just before the hour mark, but ex-Yokohama midfielder Koji Yamase hammered the final nail in his old enemy’s coffin.

Pouncing on a loose ball after some shambolic defending at the back, Yamase squeezed his well struck shot between the post and keeper Nobuhiro Kato’s outstretched right hand, sending the home crowd into rapture.

With S-Pulse and the Reds both losing, the race for third place tightened up. In Nagoya, Grampus bounced back from their injury-time heartache last week to grab the full three points and thus draw level with Urawa after a one-nil win over FC Tokyo.

Tulio Tanaka scored the only goal for Nagoya in their 1-0 win over FC Tokyo

The irrepressible Tulio Tanaka scored the decider from a corner, forcing in the ball over the line as he charged in at the far post. Meanwhile in Tosu, Sagan almost dropped a three-goal lead when Jubilo Iwata scored twice in 12 minutes, giving the home team a scare. Yohei Toyoda scored a brace for Tosu and now has 16 for the season, second only to Sanfrecce’s Sato.

Akira Nishino’s Vissel Kobe played host to Yokohama and needed to come away with at least a point to aid in their escape from relegation danger. Whislt Kobe were gallant and Yoshito Okubo threatened up-front all night, F-Marinos controlled the bulk of possession and took the lead just before half-time through a long-range strike from Seitaro Tomisawa.

F-Marinos’ ability to retain the ball under pressure paid off in the second half when they worked the ball first down the left side of the penalty area then back across to the right where Shingo Hyodo and Takashi Kanai combined well in a give-and-go, the latter then cutting the ball back for Marquinos to hook into the left corner of the net.

Goal scorer Tomisawa was sent off for a clumsy second yellow with twenty minutes left, but the away team defended resolutely until Ken Tokura got one back for Kobe in the 89th minute to make for a tense final few minutes.

The loss would prove costly for Akira Nishino, with the club announcing today that it has parted ways with the former Gamba Osaka coach who only took over in May this year after Kobe had earlier sacked Masahiro Wada after a poor start to the season.

Ryo Adachi, who acted as caretaker coach after Wada was sacked, will once again assume that role with just three games left of the season.

The wins to Grampus, Yokohama F-Marinos and Sagan Tosu brought them within touching distance of Urawa, Shimizu and Kashiwa Reysol in the chase for third.

Kobe’s loss kept them in 15th but desperately in need of at least one win in their last three games to have a chance of survival. Albirex’s victory gives them hope where seemingly there was none, and places more pressure on the teams just above them: Gamba, Kobe and Omiya Ardija.

The orange team from Saitama, Ardija, featured in one of the two draws that rounded out the evening’s matches - a nil-all stalemate against Kashima Antlers. The point could well be enough for the Antlers, although on 39 points they’d be looking very closely over their shoulders for the next three weeks. Omiya on 37 are a point ahead of Vissel and three points above the relegation zone, where Albirex and Gamba Osaka sit on 34 points.

Leandro rescued a point for Gamba Osaka against Kashiwa Reysol

The remaining drawn fixture was a four-goal nail-biter between J. League champions past and present, Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol. Leandro’s two great finishes for Gamba deserved more than the solitary point in their away clash but the home team had Masado Kudo’s first half brace of his own to thank for a 2-1 half-time lead.

Kudo’s first was a close-range header that much-maligned Gamba keeper Yosuke Fujigaya had little chance to react to. Leandro levelled things up after slipping through a non-existent gap between Reysol’s last two defenders, finding the end of Takuya Takei’s exquisite 35-yard slide-rule through ball. He got to it centimetres before keeper Takanori Sugeno, the Brazilian poking it home and leaving all three Reysol defenders aghast.

However, just before half time Kudo volleyed a cross from Hashimoto on the left to restore the home side’s lead, and whilst it took a hefty deflection on it’s way into the top of the net the striker was credited with the goal. Gamba pressed for another goal, and finally were rewarded in the 90th minute.

Leandro was too slippery again for Kashiwa’s defenders, splitting two whilst retaining the ball then wrong-footing the last to give himself the shot on goal, which he duly curled into the top-right corner. Talismanic midfielder Yasuhito Endo finished the game looking more like an extra in a horror movie than a footballer after colliding with Reysol keeper Sugeno, but is apparently well enough to travel to Oman for Japan’s World Cup qualifier next week.

Round 32 (to be played on Saturday, November 17)

Kashima Antlers vs Vegalta Sendai
Urawa Reds vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Yokohama F.Marinos vs Kashiwa Reysol
Albirex Niigata vs Kawasaki Frontale
Jubilo Iwata vs Nagoya Grampus
Consadole Sapporo vs Sagan Tosu
FC Tokyo vs Vissel Kobe
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Gamba Osaka
Cerezo Osaka vs Omiya Ardija

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