Another exciting weekend in Japan ended with Yokohama F Marinos and Urawa strengthening their title challenge by defeating closest rivals Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Kashima Antlers respectively. Cerezo Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale both emerged victorious in their matches to remain in the hunt for an ACL place, while the ten goal madness in Shizuoka threatened to eclipse the top of the table fixtures as Shimizu S-Pulse defeated Sagan Tosu 6-4.
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Saito brilliance puts Sanfrecce to the sword
Yokahama F Marinos returned to the top of the table on Saturday, winning a tight encounter at the Nissan Satadium in front of almost 40,000 spectators. The level of expectancy and pressure around this game conspired to dilute the creativity of both sides with the emphasis placed firmly on organisation and workrate. Thankfully, Manubu Saito emerged from the debris of a dreary first half to illuminate proceedings with an outstanding winning goal just after the interval.
Prior to Saito’s purposeful and decisive intervention, the match had been punctuated by petty fouls and stoppages with neither side able to impose their game plan on the other. Home goalkeeper Enomoto was alert to block a one on one with Ishihara before Nakamura had a shot parried away by Nishikawa in the Sanfrecce goal. Aoyama then almost gifted F Marinos the lead, diverting Nakamachi’s cutback inches past the frame of his own goal.
The same pattern persisted in the second period, as Hiroshima’s front three were unable to counter with their usual fluency. Saito’s goal brought about a period of dominance from the home team after the impish winger had cut in from the left, feinted past two defenders and hammered high into the net. The reigning champions responded and a right wing cross from Mikic – who had hitherto been anonymous thanks to the diligence of Narawa – was glanced agonisingly wide by Hisato Sato.
Thereafter Sanfrecce looked in vain for a killer pass to release their front men while Yokohama kept neat possession without ever threatening to increase their advantage. Nakazawa and Kurihara earned their win bonus with determined defending from a series of Hiroshima corner kicks towards the end of the match, but the day belonged to the matchwinner, Manabu Saito
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Urawa Reds
Urawa halt Antlers momentum
Urawa Reds returned to Saitama on Saturday evening having secured three crucial points against ten man Antlers, whose own belated title challenge is in danger of evaporating.
Daisuke Nasu outjumed the home defence to head the opener from an inswinging corner in the first half and Genki Haraguchi made it two midway through the second, picking the ball up just inside opposition territory, powering forward and drilling a twenty yard strike low into the bottom corner. In between times, Antlers forward Davi was dismissed for a second yellow card.
The ten men almost salvaged something late on as Osako took full advantage of Makino’s failure to defend a ball hoisted towards the penalty area, to volley spectacularly into the roof of the net. The jubilation displayed by the Urawa players at the final whistle encapsulated the importance of the win.
Shimizu S-Pulse 6-4 Sagan Tosu
It may look like a fixed odds coupon, but it’s actually a scoreline. The 12,000 spectators who arrived at the Nihondaira to witness this match may have been forgiven for expecting a humdrum, low key end of season affair, with S-Pulse safely ensconced in mid table and Sagan Tosu’s survival almost guaranteed. However a cursory glance at the wildly fluctuating form of both teams this season, suggests no one should have been overly surprised at the pantomime which unfolded.
The net bulging orgy began early as Min Woo Kim scored after only two minutes for the visitors. Four minutes later Ito took advantage of a calamitous clearance to strike a fine equaliser from the edge of the box. Yohei Toyoda nudged Tosu in front again, converting a looping free kick at the back post before two consecutive flag kick deliveries from Genki Omae yielded goals for S-Pulse, the first a header from Ito and the second an instinctive reaction from captain Sugiyama. Omae himself got on the scoresheet completing a swift counter attack before Hayasaki pulled one back in first half injury time with a rasping half volley. Still following? HT 4-3.
In the second half S-Pulse midfielder Yosuke Kawai was dismissed for a second caution shortly after Kim had clipped the ball over Kushibiki for Sagan Tosu to make it 4-4. Despite the numerical disadvantage, goals from Hiroaka and a superb, third effort from Ito ensured the points remained in Shizuoka, to the delight of manager Afshin Ghotbi. For the privileged few who witnessed ten goals, a hat trick and a red card, the game will live long in the memory.
Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Shonan Bellmare
Kakitani header clinches win for high flying Cerezo
The pivotal moments in this match came via two headers and a tap in. Relegation candidates Bellmare drew first blood, Ristic flexing his neck muscles to guide a left wing cross into the far corner of the net, his first goal since arriving from Suwong Blue Wings. Cerezo levelled matters on the cusp of half time however as Sugimoto converted a low centre from Takahiro Ogihara from close range. The winner arrived via the head of Yoichiro Kakitani when one of the leagues most lethal marksmen he found himself in splendid isolation at the back post to bury Sugimoto’s flick on from an outswinging corner. Levir Culpi’s men move up to fourth spot and travel to FC Tokyo next week before facing all of the teams above them in the run in. Shonan Bellmare remain five points from safety and this latest defeat makes three points next week away to Albirex Niigata a necessity.
Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 Jubilo Iwata
Vegalta Sendai 2-1 Nagoya Grampus
Kashiwa Reysol 2-0 Ventforet Kofu
Omiya Ardija 0-1 Oita Trinita
FC Tokyo 2-0 Albirex Niigata
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