Occasionally, J1 can take on the appearance of a competition that no one wants to win. However, the inability of any of the top clubs to break clear of the leading group and make a determined run for the title speaks more to the competitive and unpredictable nature of Japan’s premier league championship.
With ten matches of the campaign remaining, only eight points separate the top six clubs. In terms of Champions League qualification and the title itself, it is all to play for.
Sanfrecce and F Marinos slip to defeat
The top two teams lost simultaneously at the weekend, F Marinos going down 1-0 to Omiya Ardija at the NACK5 stadium in Saitama while Sanfrecce Hiroshima suffered a 2-1 home reverse to FC Tokyo. Omiya, who had Lucas Neill marshalling the defence, steadied the ship after eight consecutive defeats as a goal from Daigo Watanabe just before half time settled a feisty encounter which saw seven players cautioned. Yokohama remain top, one point ahead of Urawa Reds.
It was another Watanabe, Daigo’s younger brother Kazuma, who landed the first blow on Sanfrecce although his opener was cancelled out by Hiroshima talisman Hisato Sato, in front of a disappointing home crowd of just under 14,000. Nine minutes from time, Tokyo clinched the victory with a strike from Yonemoto which keeps them in tenth spot and relieves some of the pressure on coach Ranko Popovic. Sanfrecce Hiroshima drop to third.
Urawa Reds move one point off top spot
Urawa Reds took advantage of surprise defeats for both of their main challengers by claiming a narrow 1-0 victory over Albirex Niigata. The 40,000 fans in attendance witnessed Shinzo Koroki score his ninth goal of the season to move Reds into second spot.
Antlers win prompts shock Reysol resignation
Kashima Antlers, the J League’s most successful club, continue to lurk just below the top three. An eighth J1 championship remains a slim possibility after this victory moved them into fourth position, six points behind Yokohama F Marinos. Yuya Osako opened the scoring for the home side and a brace from Juninho, either side of a consolation from Masato Kudo, saw Antlers run out comfortable victors.
Despite the loss and an indifferent domestic campaign, J League observers were shocked by news of Reysol coach Nelsinho’s resignation. The Brazilian, who has taken Reysol to the quarter finals of the ACL this season, and who made history by leading the club to the J1 title in 2011 following promotion the previous season, relinquished his duties in the aftermath of this defeat with the club in ninth position.
S-Pulse survive late Oita comeback
S-Pulse scored two goals on the stroke of half time to take a comfortable lead into the interval at the Bank Dome Stadium. Muramatsu headed in at the back post before Genki Omae produced a moment of devastating brilliance, controlling a long diagonal ball before deftly clipping a finish over the Oita Trinita goalkeeper. Toshiyuki Takagi, who scored a hat trick last week against Kashima Antlers, struck again after the break, blasting a left foot shot high into the net to make it 3-0. The home side rallied and scored twice in the last ten minutes through Yasuhito Morishima, but the team who finished sixth in J2 last season (promoted via play offs), remain rooted to the foot of the table after yet another defeat.
Cerezo and Frontale share the spoils
A match that promised much delivered some decent entertainment for 30,000 fans in Osaka but failed to provide an all important goal. Both sides lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations and proceeded to cancel each other out, although much of the approach play was pleasing on the eye. The home side, for whom Yamaguchi and Ariaba excelled, came closest with a couple of efforts from Sugimoto and Kakitani, while the visitors were always threatening through Nakamura, Noborizato and Okubo. Indeed, the latter thought he had snatched victory in the dying embers of the match but his goal was ruled out for offside, with TV pictures seeming to suggest it should have stood. Cerezo may yet feel a Champions League slot is still within their grasp but any title aspirations have now surely gone. Kawasaki Frontale sit in a comfortable seventh position but will rue the injury time decision that prevented J1 top scorer Okubo from claiming his nineteenth goal of the campaign.
Bellmare earn crucial victory
Shonan Bellmare gave their survival hopes a boost with victory over Vegalta Sendai. Midfielder Tomi Shimomura struck twice and 25 year old Brazilian Wellington scored a third to give the home side a glimpse of survival. Sendai responded with a brace from Wilson but it wasn’t enough to prevent them slipping to defeat. A disappointing season overall sees Vegalta occupy twelfth place in the table, having finished as runners up in 2012.
Late equaliser denies Iwata
If Jubilo Iwata are relegated, and it looks increasingly likely they will be, they will go down cursing their propensity to turn wins into draws. Their tenth stalemate of the season arrived when Patric levelled for Kofu with four minutes remaining, cancelling out Hiroki Yamada’s opener. The visitors will view this a crucial point gained as it keeps them five points clear of the drop zone.
Honours even at Best Amenity Stadium
Nagoya Grampus defender Takahiro Masukawa opened the scoring for Dragan Stojkovic’s men in the first half only to be pegged back by a Mizunuma strike for Sagan Tosu just after the break. The points move Grampus up to eighth while Tosu, who are undefeated in their last four matches, stay in 14th position.
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