SHIZUOKA – Kashiwa Reysol returned to the J. League summit against a stunning backdrop of Mt. Fuji on Sunday as second-half goals from Masato Kudo and Leandro Domingues earned them a gritty 2-1 win at Shimizu S-Pulse.
Champions Nagoya Grampus started the day top on goal difference having beaten Yokohama F. Marinos away by the same score on Saturday, but a rare header from Leandro Domingues with five minutes left completed a dramatic come-from-behind win, putting Kashiwa (68) three points clear again with just two games left.
Victory moved Kashiwa a step closer to completing a fairy-tale campaign, achieving the unprecedented feat of capturing second- and first-division titles in consecutive seasons.
“Even before the season started it was never our intention just to make up the numbers,” said Leandro. “We came up with the aim of winning and have been up there at the top since the start of the season. We will prepare for our next game against Cerezo Osaka trying to focus the way we have in all the other games.”
Arguably Japan’s most iconic landmark, Mt. Fuji’s view provided the main highlight of a cagey first half until Australian defender Eddy Bosnar struck with a thunderbolt to put S-Pulse in front just before halftime.
Former Japan striker Naohiro Takahara flashed a shot across the face of goal on 12 minutes and Takuma Edamura will perhaps feel he could have done better with three free headers, the second kept out by an extravagant save from Takanori Sugeno on 32 minutes.
Kashiwa was repeatedly frustrated by a Shimizu backline superbly marshaled by Bosnar, the visitors limited to a half-chance that Leandro fired wide before falling behind on 43 minutes.
Ryoichi Kurisawa went into referee Hiroyoshi Takayama’s book for bringing down former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg, and Bosnar stepped up to ram the free kick low and hard into the right hand corner to give Sugeno no chance.
Shimizu should have doubled its lead early in the second half, Sugeno pulling off a superb save to deny Genki Omae from point blank range, and Afshin Ghotbi’s side then had a valid claim for a penalty waved away by Takayama when Omae was bundled over by two defenders in the 55th minute.
But Kashiwa pulled level on 62 minutes when Leandro Domingues got a toe to a ball into the box, and Kudo stooped to head past Kaito Yamamoto at his near post.
“It wasn’t the prettiest of goals, but I thought if I appeared in the box, I could make something happen,” said Kudo. “This is a great win for the team today. Sure we are under pressure, but we are thriving on it.”
Kashiwa thought it had taken the lead moments later when Kudo headed in Leandro Domingues’ cross but the linesman had already flagged for offside.
Nelsinho’s men started to turn the screw and Yamamoto did well to deny Masakatsu Sawa 12 minutes from time, but Domingues had the last word, heading in after Yamamoto could only parry Jorge Wagner’s shot.
In the day’s only other fixture, World Cup striker Yoshito Okubo struck in the fifth minute of injury time as Vissel Kobe claimed local bragging rights with a 3-0 win away to Cerezo Osaka.