Former Asian champion Gamba Osaka will pin their J. League title hopes on Kashima Antlers after Akira Nishino’s side eked out a 1-1 draw at FC Tokyo on Saturday.
In what was a must-win encounter for both teams, former Gamba striker Masashi Oguro opened the scoring midway through the first half in his first game against his old club.
Central defender Sota Nakazawa equalized from a Yasuhito Endo corner eight minutes to time as the two sides settled for a point each at Ajinomoto Stadium.
Gamba barely cut into Nagoya Grampus’ lead at the top of the table as they still trail by 10 points with just five games left. Antlers, 11 points out of first, host Grampus on Sunday in the climax of the J1 season.
“Obviously, I’m not happy with the outcome,” Nishino said. “There are all kinds of pressure on us right now, and the result won’t always be to our liking.”
Gamba were coming off a 4-2 home defeat to Vissel Kobe last weekend, a loss that decimated their chances of recapturing the league crown for the first time since 2005.
Tokyo, on 29 points for the season, were only a point above 16th-place Omiya Ardija after Vissel beat Vegalta Sendai 2-0.
Gamba still looked hung over from their defeat to Vissel as the visitors rarely ventured into the opposite side during the first half, creating few opportunities against a team they haven’t lost to since the 2008 season.
Tokyo exploited Gamba’s slow start, moving in front after 20 minutes through Oguro, who struck for the fourth time in his last five appearances.
Sota Hirayama laid off to Naotake Hanyu on the left wing before Hanyu crossed for the near post, where Oguro glanced a header past goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya into the right corner.
Gamba picked up the pace after the intermission with Takashi Usami coming off the bench to spark his team on the attack.
As Gamba pushed Tokyo on to their heels, Nakazawa headed home to make it 1-1. The game opened up down the stretch, but both teams failed to find a decisive second before substitute Hayato Sasaki’s missed free kick invited the final whistle.
In other games, Ryoichi Maeda was again the savior for new Nabisco Cup champions Jubilo Iwata as the Japan striker equalized in the 94th minute for a 1-1 home draw to Albirex Niigata.
Yokohama F. Marinos pulverized last-place Shonan Bellmare 4-1 away behind goals from Shunsuke Nakamura (penalty), Koji Yamase, Norihisa Shimizu and Jin Hanato.
Cerezo Osaka, meanwhile, stayed in the hunt for a place in next year’s Asian Champions League with a 1-0 home win over Shimizu S-Pulse.