KASHIWA, Chiba Pref. — A late two-goal salvo from Minoru Suganuma and Popo put a huge dent in Nagoya Grampus’ J. League championship aspirations as Kashiwa Reysol came from behind to beat Dragan Stojkovic’s title-chasing side 2-1 on Saturday.
Grampus, which began the day just one point behind league-leader Kashima Antlers, looked comfortable after Yoshizumi Ogawa had scored a well-worked first-half opener. But Suganuma’s 80th-minute equalizer shattered Nagoya’s rhythm and allowed substitute Popo to grab the winner two minutes later, consigning Grampus to a sixth league game without a win at a time when the championship is there for the taking.
Kawasaki Frontale, which began the day one point behind Grampus in third, also blew a golden chance with a 2-1 loss at Omiya Ardija, while FC Tokyo and Urawa Reds threw their names firmly into the title mix with away wins at Gamba Osaka and Consadole Sapporo, respectively. Urawa drew level on points with Antlers, while Tokyo moved alongside Frontale and Oita Trinita in the chasing pack on 51 points.
Kashima plays Albirex Niigata on Sunday, knowing a win would establish a three-point cushion at the top with three matches left of the season to play.
As “The Star-Spangled Banner” rang out from a loudspeaker in the Reysol supporters’ end before the match at Hitachi Stadium, a Kashiwa fan wearing a suit and a mask of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama took center stage to rally his team.
“Yes we can,” chanted the impostor, but Nagoya manager Stojkovic looked anything but convinced of his own side’s prospects of glory after the final whistle.
“We believe until the end, but with today’s defeat we are a step back,” he said. “We will never give up, and we will try to win our last three games and then we will see.
“But we must know that when we produce good football we must be intelligent enough to capitalize on our play. Today we played beautiful football but we didn’t show enough intelligence to finish the game.”
Stojkovic was also angered by a goal disallowed for offside after Frode Johnsen had thumped a Magnum pass past Reysol ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno in the 13th minute. The Norwegian striker agreed with his manager’s assessment.
“It was never even close to offside,” Johnsen said. “Now it is difficult to win the league. This year we had a big chance, and you might never get this chance again. If we can’t win games like this, then maybe we don’t deserve to win the title.”
Reysol was on the receiving end of a contentious decision itself with 20 minutes gone, when referee Yuichi Nishimura waved away a penalty appeal after Maya Yoshida felled Kota Sugiyama in the box.
The home side stuck to the task after a bright start, but after Nagoya’s Naoshi Nakamura and Keiji Tamada both tested Sugeno with long-range efforts, Ogawa gave Grampus the lead. Magnum was again at the heart of the move, sending a ball in for Johnsen to lay off to Ogawa, who rifled a lunging shot past Sugeno.
Reysol pressed for an equalizer as the second half got under way, but it was Nagoya that went closest when Tamada forced a brilliant save from Sugeno with a curling shot from outside the box. The goalkeeper excelled himself again five minutes later with a superb parry from a Johnsen snap shot.
But with 10 minutes left to play, Reysol grabbed the equalizer. Defender Yusuke Murakami jumped highest for a corner, and Suganuma bustled in to nudge the ball over the line.
Two minutes later, Reysol was in front. With Grampus still reeling from the first goal, Hidekazu Otani surged forward before threading the ball through to Popo. The Brazilian needed no second invitation, smashing the ball past goalkeeper Koji Nishimura with his right foot
“After the first goal I think they were in shock, like me,” Stojkovic said. “They didn’t recover enough. We controlled the game about 90 percent, but finally we lost and this is very disappointing.”
Miura to resign
SAPPORO (Kyodo) Toshiya Miura, manager of J. League club Consadole Sapporo, said Saturday he will resign at the end of the season after his side failed to stay in the top flight.
Miura, 45, turned down an offer from the Hokkaido club to remain in his post for their campaign next season in the second division. In his first year in charge in 2007, he guided Sapporo to the J2 championship and promotion to the first division.
However, Sapporo have already been relegated and are propping up the 18-team table on just 17 points with three games left to play.