KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Rafael grabbed a superb brace and goalkeeper Takashi Kitano saved a second-half penalty as relegation-threatened Omiya Ardija denied Kashiwa Reysol the chance to return to the top of the table with a surprise 3-1 win away in the J. League on Sunday.
Gamba Osaka’s shock defeat at home to Ventforet Kofu on Saturday provided Reysol with the perfect opportunity to move back into pole position by beating an Omiya side that started the day just two points above the drop zone.
But Rafael was the architect behind their downfall, grabbing a goal in each half before Takuya Aoki completed the scoring to boost Omiya’s chances of survival and give the visitors their first league win over Kashiwa since October 2005.
“We felt under pressure today because we knew Kashiwa would fight hard knowing that a victory would take them top, but we prepared well,” said Rafael. “We have got more confidence with this victory. The situation remains difficult but I am confident we will stay in J1.”
With champions Nagoya Grampus the only team in the top four in the 27th round of matches to win, the title race remains wide open with seven games of the campaign remaining.
Gamba stay top on 54 points, with Grampus, 3-1 winners at home to Vissel Kobe on Friday, and Kashiwa on 53. Yokohama F. Marinos are on 51 after Saturday’s 3-1 loss at home to fifth-placed Vegalta Sendai (44).
In a lively start to the game, Kitano got down well to block an early shot from Masakatsu Sawa but Rafael put Omiya in front on five minutes with a fabulous strike, the wiry Brazilian volleying into the right-hand corner after a flick on from Jun Kanakubo’s corner.
With the interval approaching, Leandro Domingues earned a free kick from a promising position after being bundled over by Yosuke Kataoka, but the Brazilian’s effort lacked enough purchase to trouble Kitano.
Takanori Sugeno pulled off a flying save to prevent Rafael from producing a carbon copy of his first half goal, but the 190-cm striker was not to be denied a second time and swept home to double the advantage 11 minutes into the second period.
Kashiwa finally woke up and Leandro Domingues pulled one back on 63 minutes, only to blow the chance to level from the penalty spot moments later after substitute Hideaki Kitajima had gone down in the box.
The Brazilian hit his shot hard and low but Kitano guessed right, diving to his left to make the stop to the delight of the orange army of traveling fans behind his goal.
Kashiwa upped the pace in search of an equalizer but left the back door open for Aoki to sprint away on the break and keep his head to wrap up the points 13 minutes from time.
“It was a tough battle and I am delighted we are taking three points back to Omiya with us,” said Omiya manager Jun Suzuki. “We made a good start and were able to keep hold of the ball after scoring at a good time in the game.
“But the biggest turning point for us was Kitano making the penalty save. To get that extra goal after that is something that we have struggled to do but we defended solidly and went and got that third goal and that is a big plus for us.”
In the day’s other game, bottom club goals from Toshiya Sueyoshi and Sho Naruoka provided a flicker of hope for Avispa Fukuoka in a 2-1 win over Sanfreece Hiroshima, but the Kyushu club still remains rooted to the foot of the table and 14 points from safety.