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Maki proves point, but JEF must settle for draw

by Jeremy Walker

CHIBA — JEF United Chiba striker Seiichiro Maki had a point to prove — and although he did so with a trademark goal against Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday night, it was not good enough to secure all three points as the visitors fought back to draw 1-1.

After being left out of the national squad on Thursday for the Kirin Cup and World Cup qualifiers, the 2006 World Cup forward was determined to make a statement to national coach Takeshi Okada.

And when he headed JEF in front on 50 minutes, meeting Tatsuya Yazawa’s chip into the middle, he celebrated in style in front of the mass of yellow shirts behind the goal at Fukuda Denshi Arena. It was his fourth goal of the season, and looked to be enough to take all three points as the home team repelled wave after wave of Marinos attacks.

But with just a minute of the 90 remaining, Marinos left back Takanobu Komiyama finally beat the JEF resistance with a thumping right-foot drive to secure a 1-1 draw.

JEF manager Alex Miller, the former Liverpool assistant coach, said he could not fault his players for effort.

“In the second half we had a lot of possession, with quick breaks and counter-attacks, but our final pass let us down,” said the Scotsman. “If our final pass had been better, we could have gone 2-0 up and finished the game, before they scored.”

With only two wins this season, JEF needed three points at home, but had to settle for just one again to move on to 12 points — still four adrift of mid-table Marinos.

The visitors began confidently and dominated the first half-hour, capitalizing on a series of careless errors in the JEF midfield to retain possession for long periods.

JEF had no option but to defend in numbers and hope for a break, but could not emerge as an attacking force until the closing stages of the first half.

In the early stages, Marinos came close through Koji Yamase, who fired into the side netting after breaking free on the right, and through Kenta Kano, whose free kick curled wide. On another Marinos attack, center forward Kazuma Watanabe tested Masahiro Okamoto with a low, left-foot drive, but the JEF keeper smothered the ball comfortably at his near post.

JEF captain Tomi Shimomura stirred his team into life with some incisive passing from midfield, and his teammates responded and finally took a foothold in the match.

As the first half came to a close with the home side now on top, Shimomura saw a low, left-foot shot skid just wide, and Hiroki Iikura saved from Maki.

The halftime break could not halt JEF’s momentum, and the home team quickly went on the attack in the second half.

Maki’s goal was the start of a sustained period of pressure, and Yazawa displayed JEF’s adventure with an ambitious effort from the edge of the box that sailed high and wide from a set-piece routine.

On the hour mark, Marinos manager Kokichi Kimura replaced Yamase with Kim Kun Hoan to add a bit of height and pace to the attack, but the home side had tightened up considerably and Yazawa drew applause from manager Miller with a crunching tackle to halt another Marinos move far from the danger area.

After Kano had come close for Marinos at one end, JEF went down the other end and Shimomura warmed Iikura’s fingers with a stinging drive from 25 meters.

With 20 minutes to go, Daisuke Sakata came on for Kano as the visitors searched for an equalizer, and Yuji Nakazawa joined his attack to cause more problems for the JEF defense.

JEF looked like they would hold out until Komiyama’s strike after 88 minutes changed it all.

In other games Saturday, Albirex Niigata missed the chance to go second in the table after losing 1-0 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. A Masaki Yamamoto free kick after 52 minutes — the midfielder’s first league goal of the campaign — earned S-Pulse all three points and condemned third-place Niigata to a third league defeat.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima also won away, 1-0 at bottom club Oita Trinita, to climb into fifth. It was Oita’s 10th consecutive league defeat, and came courtesy of Hisato Sato’s sixth league goal of the season on the stroke of halftime. Oita remained rooted to the foot of the table with only four points from 13 games. Montedio Yamagata and Kyoto Sanga drew 0-0 in a mid-table stalemate, and Vissel Kobe beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1.

On Sunday, Asian champions Gamba Osaka host J. League champions and league leaders Kashima Antlers, FC Tokyo welcome Kawasaki Frontale to Ajinomoto Stadium, Nagoya Grampus make the short journey to Jubilo Iwata, and Omiya Ardija take on Urawa Reds in the Saitama derby at Saitama Stadium 2002 — a home game for Omiya, whose NACK5 Stadium holds only 15,000.

After Sunday’s games, the J. League first division takes a monthlong break for the Kirin Cup and World Cup qualifiers, resuming June 20.