YOKOHAMA – Kensuke Nagai extended his red-hot scoring streak with an equalizer seven minutes from time to salvage a 1-1 draw for Nagoya Grampus against Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday.
Nagai, who is in contention for a place in Japan’s 18-man Olympic squad when it is named on Monday, went into the match at Nissan Stadium having scored five goals in his previous three outings, but it was Marinos who took the lead through Marquinhos in the 53rd minute.
A chest-down from strike partner Josh Kennedy gave Nagai the chance to lash in the equalizer as the game moved toward the final whistle, however, continuing a significant change in fortunes for the 23-year-old after scoring only twice before the June international break.
“Recently I have been scoring goals and that has given me confidence,” said Nagai. “I hadn’t been scoring before the summer and that had an effect on me psychologically. Then we had a training camp and gradually I began to refind my scoring touch. Now I’m reaping the benefits.”
Nagai has been under the microscope ever since making his national team debut in January 2010 while still a student at Fukuoka University, but manager Dragan Stojkovic believes the forward has come of age in recent weeks.
“First of all, to play for a university and to play in the J.League is a big difference,” Stojkovic said. “He can be popular like (Lionel) Messi at university, but it doesn’t count here.
“For him it was very important to learn about tactics and spend more time with us because it was a new challenge for him playing in J1. I think he has adapted very well and he is now where he deserves to be.”
Nagai almost opened the scoring when he drilled a left-foot shot against the crossbar on the half-hour mark, before Jungo Fujimoto forced a full-stretch save out of Marinos goalkeeper Hiroki Iikura with a free kick from the edge of the area.
For all Nagoya’s first-half dominance, however, it was the home side that took the lead eight minutes after the break. Seitaro Tomisawa won the ball with the Grampus defense dawdling in possession, Yuji Ono slipped it on to Marquinhos, and the Brazilian strode into the box before cracking a shot past Yoshinari Takagi.
Ono missed a glorious chance to double Yokohama’s lead when he hit the side-netting with the goal at his mercy, and Marquinhos was also guilty of profligacy when he stabbed wide when the ball made its way through from a corner.
And the misses would prove costly when Nagai leveled the score in the 83rd minute. Kennedy chested down a pass from Fujimoto, and Nagai made no mistake as he drove it past Iikura into the corner of the net.
“To take just a draw from this game is very disappointing,” said Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. “We had chances to get a second goal, and I think if we had taken them it would have been all over. We were able to match up to Grampus, so it’s disappointing not to take all three points.”
Elsewhere in the J.League, a 79th-minute goal from Wilson rescued a 2-2 draw for leaders Vegalta Sendai against second-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima, third-place Urawa Reds drew 1-1 with Cerezo Osaka, and fourth-place Kawasaki Frontale went down 1-0 to Vissel Kobe.
In-form Kashiwa Reysol continued to surge up the table with a 6-2 demolition of Gamba Osaka, Jubilo Iwata beat FC Tokyo 3-1, and Omiya Ardija picked up a rare win — 1-0 over Shimizu S-Pulse.