KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Jorge Wagner fired Kashiwa Reysol back to top of the table and increased Montedio Yamagata’s relegation fears in the process with a 1-0 win in the J. League first division on Sunday.
The Brazilian midfielder secured the points with a twice-taken penalty in the first half to put Reysol two points ahead of Gamba Osaka, who were thrashed 4-1 by champions Nagoya Grampus on Saturday.
With five games of the season left, the title race remains poised for a dramatic climax. Kashiwa has 59 points, Gamba have 57, Grampus have 56 while Yokohama F. Marinos, held 1-1 by Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday, are a further four points adrift.
“We thought this would be our last chance. Going top of the table was very much in our minds and we stayed clam and got the result,” said Kashiwa captain Hidekazu Otani.
“The most important thing is to keep picking up three points and we got the job done today. We are top because of the results we have built up and all we have to do is keep it going.”
Ryoichi Kurisawa went close to giving Kashiwa the lead midway through the first-half when he drew a smart save from Kenta Shimizu and the home side deservedly made the breakthrough 12 minutes before halftime.
Hidenori Ishii was adjudged to have brought down Tatsuya Masushima and Jorge Wagner buried the resultant spot kick low to Shimizu’s right for the second time after his first effort was ruled out for encroachment.
Shimizu had to be alert to keep out a header from Masakatsu Sawa as Kashiwa pressed for a second after the restart, while Tetsuro Ota fired a free kick into the side netting at the other end.
Yamagata made a frantic attempt to salvage an equalizer in the closing stages but Kashiwa held firm to stay on track for the championship in its first season back in the top flight.
Second-from-bottom Yamagata is staring relegation in the face, the defeat leaving it nine points adrift of Ventforet Kofu, who moved out of the drop zone with a 4-0 win away to Cerezo Osaka on Saturday.
In Sunday’s only other fixture, Bruno Lopes scored twice as Albirex Niigata boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 win away to Kawasaki Frontale.
Okazaki scores again
Japan striker Shinji Okazaki scored his third goal of the season Saturday as Stuttgart continued its fine run in the Bundesliga with a 2-0 win over Hoffenheim.
With his confidence high after scoring twice midweek for the national team in an 8-0 World Cup qualifying win over Tajikistan, Okazaki took Tamas Hajnal’s quickly-taken free kick on his chest and chipped past Hoffenheim keeper Tom Starke to open the scoring on 48 minutes.
Pavel Pogrebnyak converted from the penalty spot with 13 minutes left to wrap up the points and move Stuttgart level on 16 points with third-placed champions Borussia Dortmund, who won 2-0 at Werder Bremen on Friday night.
“I’m glad I was able to score,” Okazaki said after Stuttgart’s fourth win from its last five league outings. “Recently I’ve been feeling strong mentally. I’ve started to believe that even if I miss a shot, I can still score with the next one.”
“I feel like it was good that I didn’t trap the ball too well (before scoring). In my case when I trap the ball well I don’t finish,” he grinned.
Elsewhere, Hajime Hosogai put in a full shift in promoted Augsburg’s 1-0 win away to Mainz, while Japan captain Makoto Hasebe came on at right back in the second half of Wolfsburg’s 2-1 win at home to Nurnberg.
In Italy, Yuto Nagatomo played the 90 minutes but Inter Milan’s dismal start to the season continued as it went down 2-1 at Catania to remain just above the relegation zone in Serie A.