NAGOYA – Kensuke Nagai came off the bench to score his first J. League goal on Sunday as champions Nagoya Grampus beat Jubilo Iwata 2-1 at home to extend their winning streak to six matches.
Yoshizumi Ogawa canceled out Hidetaka Kanazono’s 19th-minute opener for the visitors and Nagai squeezed the winner just inside the far post 17 minutes from time to put Grampus within two points of leaders Kashiwa Reysol with a game in hand.
Gamba Osaka, level on 39 points with Grampus, also kept up the pressure on Kashiwa with a 2-0 defeat of relegation-haunted Avispa Fukuoka. Kashiwa beat second-place Yokohama F. Marinos by the same scoreline on Saturday.
Nagoya started brightly and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, hero in Iwata’s 4-2 penalty shootout win over Argentina’s Independiente in the Suruga Bank Championship in midweek, was called on to make a flying stop from Keiji Tamada’s 14th-minute free kick.
But a fine finish from rookie striker Kanazono put Iwata in front, the 22-year-old controlling Gilsinho’s pass before turning to smash past Yoshinari Takagi.
Iwata’s joy was short-lived though as Josh Kennedy, after forcing another fine stop from Kawaguchi, teed up Ogawa to level on 28 minutes with his first goal of the season.
“I hadn’t scored for a while so I’m relieved to get on the scoresheet,” said Ogawa. “Josh got a great ball in from Jungo (Fujimoto) and I was able to take his pass and put it away. It was important that we drew level in the first half.”
Kawaguchi was again on hand to deny Kennedy with an acrobatic save two minutes before the interval and Igor Burzanovic rattled the crossbar as Nagoya pressed for a second.
Nagai replaced Burzanovic on 65 minutes and the switch paid off when the Japan Under-22 striker took Kennedy’s pass to clip past Kawaguchi.
“I’m really pleased — it felt great to score,” said Nagai. “The one-two with Joshua worked well and it was just a case of me steering the ball in.”
The match was preceded by a minute’s silence for former Japan and Yokohama F. Marinos defender Naoki Matsuda, who died at the age of 34 on Thursday.
All players and officials also wore black armbands as a mark of respect for the 2002 World Cup defender. Matsuda’s ex-Yokohama teammate Hayuma Tanaka wore a white vest with Matsuda’s name and No. 3 squad number on the back of it during the minute’s silence.
At Expo Stadium, Rafinha was on target for the third game in a row, sweeping in Lee Keun Ho’s cross for Gamba’s opener on 25 minutes.
Fukuoka, which fired manager Yoshiyuki Shinoda and replaced him with assistant coach Tetsuya Asano on Wednesday, spurned a series of opportunities to equalize and its misery was compounded when Tatsunori Yamagata turned Lee’s cross into his own net in the 75th minute.
Fukuoka remains rooted to the foot of the table 15 points adrift of safety with 14 games left.
In the day’s other game, Vegalta Sendai came from two goals down to hold Omiya Ardija 2-2 away, courtesy of second-half strikes from Shingo Akamine and Naoki Sugai.
Sakuma in at Ventforet
Ventforet Kofu on Sunday named general manager Satoru Sakuma as the man who will replace sacked Toshiya Miura as boss of the struggling J. League first-division club.
Kofu fired Miura late Saturday after a 2-0 home defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima left the Yamanashi club, playing its first season back in the top flight, third from bottom in the table.
Former Omiya Ardija manager Sakuma said: “It is difficult to make major changes to the way we have been playing but I want to make some adjustments here and there. Overall I want us defensively to play as a more compact unit.”
Miura said after Saturday’s game, “They (Kofu) went as far as hiring me to replace the coach that got the team promoted but I couldn’t deliver the results.”