With six matches of the J1 campaign remaining, it is now a four way fight for the title. Three points separate Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Yokohama F Marinos, Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers as the season thunders towards a nail biting climax. Long time title favourites F Marinos have stuttered of late, with only one win in five and dropped more points on Saturday away to Ventforet Kofu, while each of their championship rivals secured a maximum return. Oita Trinita’s inevitable relegation to J2 was finally confirmed as they fell to defeat at home to Cerezo Osaka.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Defending champions Sanfrecce look to have recovered their form at a critical juncture in the title race, though any suggestion that they eased to victory in this encounter would be a gross misrepresentation of proceedings. The game was deadlocked and goalless until the 71st minute when S-Pulse took the lead from the spot, Genki Omae despatching with precision. However, Sanfrecce refused to let their spirit deteriorate in the same manner as the sodden conditons at the Big Arch, and re-established control with two strikes of devastating quality in quick succession. First, Shiotani rifled high into the net from 25 yards before Notsuda cut in from the right and unleashed a vicious, dipping left shot which cannoned in off the upright. Two minutes from time it was 19yr old Notsuda who decorated the scoreline further, which was harsh on S-Pulse, as he latched on to a through pass from Mikic and finishing calmly for his fourth of the season. As the old cliché goes, these are the type of matches that win championships.
Urawa Reds 4-0 Omiya Ardija
It might all have been so different for Omiya Ardija had Novakovic converted the simplest of chances early on in the Saitama derby. Unmarked, he fired wide from six yards and in Urawa’s next meaningful attack, the game was irretrievably lost. The Australian Lucas Neill, brought in to steady the faltering Omiya backline, (he hasn’t), bundled into the back of Reds striker Koroki as he shaped to shoot, conceding a penalty and receiving a red card for his impetuosity. Abe converted emphatically and the dye was cast. That it took a further 60 minutes for Urawa to double their advantage was something of a surprise but the strong running Haraguchi tapped in at the back post to confirm their numerical and technical superiority. Koroki got the goal his work rate deserved, cutting in from the right and rounding the goalkeeper before Sekiguchi completed the rout. It’s hard to believe that a few short months ago Omiya were clear at the top and genuine title contenders. Their rise and fall has been one of the stories of the season, and they now sit tenth in the table. Urawa, the leagues top scorers are only two points off top spot.
Ventforet Kofu 0-0 Yokohama F Marinos
This is not a game F Marinos fans will recall with any great fondness. Their hosts hustled, harried and attacked with vigour, and as a result, the league leaders cultivated passing game deserted them . Venforet Kofu could have scored four times in the opening fifteen minutes with Patric and Kashiwa both impressive and profligate in equal measure. Yokohmama were slow and ponderous in their approach play with striker Marquinhos hopelessly detached from proceedings until the closing moments. Manabu Saito is an enterprising and dangerous wide player but his refusal to track back caused 40 year old full back Dutra no end of problems as Kofu created overloads down his flank for most of the afternoon. Shunsuke Nakamura failed to impose his ability on the game until the final ten minutes when F Marinos forced a flurry of corners which he delivered with his usual accuracy, but Kofu remained steadfast in their commitment to avoid a concession. The visitors had two glaring opportunities to snatch a scarcely merited victory in injury time. First, Saito eliminated three defenders on the edge of the box and crossed for Marquinhos, who strained his neck muscles but could not connect from two yards out, then Kofu goalkeeper Ogi denied Marquinhos and Fujita in quick succession. Yokohama will want to move on quickly and must hope this match is not remembered as a pivotal moment in their season.
FC Tokyo 1-4 Kashima Antlers
Antlers, the most successful club in J League history, have quietly and as if by stealth, come up on the rails of the league leaders and are mounting a serious challenge for the 2013 title. They embarked on this annihilation of FC Tokyo, who prior to kick off, were the divisions form team and perhaps even harboured title aspirations themselves. Such notions were dispelled in the opening ten minutes as Endo curled a sensational strike for the first and Davi pounced on a defensive lapse to score a second. In the second half the Antlers captain, Ogasawara ran 30 yards unchallenged before despatching a ferocious effort into the roof of the net. Osaka completed the rout, dancing round the goalkeeper to make it four, while Hirayama stabbed home from a corner to provide the home team with a consolation. With four wins from their last five matches, Kashima Antlers will fancy their chances of an eighth championship win.
Albirex Niigata 3-1 Sagan Tosu
Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 Kashiwa Reysol
Shonan Bellmare 1-1 Nagoya Grampus
Jubilo Iwata 1-1 Vegalta Sendai
Oita Trinita (R) 0-2 Cerezo Osaka
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