OITA – Relegated Oita Trinita rewrote the script with a stunning 1-0 win over high-flying Kawasaki Frontale in the J. League on Sunday.
Brazilian striker Fernandinho scored the decider in the 62nd minute to give Oita a fully deserved victory and a welcome lift at the end of a troubled week for the Kyushu club.
“That was our best performance since I took over as manager,” said Oita manager Ranko Popovic. “We dominated very strong opponents for 90 minutes. We were able to create a lot of good chances and reproduce what we have been doing on the training ground. All credit to the players.”
Kawasaki was looking to restore its one-point lead over Kashima Antlers but this costly defeat means it now trails the champions by two points with two games of the season left to play.
Antlers, who reclaimed top spot with a 1-0 win at Kyoto Sanga on Saturday, have 60 points, Frontale have 58 and Gamba Osaka have 57 after Saturday’s 2-0 win at Shimizu S-Pulse.
Antlers can clinch an unprecedented third consecutive league crown if they beat Gamba next weekend and Kawasaki fails to beat Albirex Niigata.
In Sunday’s only other game, JEF United Chiba, who will be joining Oita in the second-division wilderness next season, also pulled off a surprise win as headed goals from Tatsunori Arai and Neto Baiano earned a 2-1 victory over 10-man FC Tokyo at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
With only pride to play for, Oita dominated the first half at Kyushu Oil Dome and went close to breaking the deadlock when Hiroshi Kiyotake had a shot hacked off the line.
Oita kept Juninho and Chong Tese comfortably under wraps and the visitors’ only real chance came in time added-on at the end of the first period. Shusaku Nishikawa got down to block Renatinho’s shot and Hiroyuki Taniguchi screwed the rebound wide.
Oita continued to dictate proceedings after the break and Shusuke Tsubouchi saw a diving header fly just over the bar before the hosts’ domination finally paid dividends.
Mu Kanazaki weaved his way behind Kawasaki’s defense and laid the ball off for strike partner Fernandinho to sweep home from close range.
Oita went desperately close to a second 10 minutes from time as Edmilson saw his chip come back off the post, but the home side withstood late pressure to take the points.
“A lot of our fans came all the way out to Oita so it is disappointing that we couldn’t get three points for them,” said Kawasaki manager Takashi Sekizuka.
“Oita were better than us at the back and going forward. We just have to regroup and get back to our best (for the last two matches).”
Oita’s win came 48 hours after Hiroshi Mizohata announced he would be stepping down as president at the end of the league campaign.
Trinita were on the verge of bankruptcy before securing earlier this week a rescue package worth around ¥600 million from a special J. League fund set aside for clubs facing financial difficulties.
“A lot has happened this past week and we all wanted to play as a solid team for the president. We are pleased that we were able to grind out the result,” said Kanazaki.