Nagoya Grampus checked Kashiwa Reysol’s rise up the J. League table with a 2-1 win over the surging defending champions on Saturday night.
Reysol went into the game at National Stadium on the back of six wins from their last seven outings, and not even a steady downpour and an early opener from Nagoya’s Josh Kennedy looked like dousing their fire when Leandro Domingues leveled the score in the 17th minute.
But there was no way back when Kashiwa captain Hidekazu Otani headed into his own net in the 64th minute, ending a remarkable run that had seen the Chiba side climb from 15th to fourth in the table in the two months since it last tasted defeat.
“In the first half Grampus played a lot of long balls, and their height made it difficult for us to get into our rhythm,” said Reysol manager Nelsinho. “After halftime our strikers managed to get to grips with their midfield, and that made things easier for us.
“In the end we conceded another goal, but it was an own goal and not one that they forced on us. I thought we did a pretty good job of containing them.”
Grampus leapfrogged Reysol into fourth place for the 2010 champions’ highest position so far this season, and with the campaign now at its halfway point, manager Dragan Stojkovic is looking for further improvement.
“For us the season starts next week,” he said. “We are halfway, halftime, and next week against Sendai our season starts. It was so important to win this game because we were playing against the champions — don’t forget that.
“Tactically we were almost perfect. We did exactly what we wanted to do. When you win against the champions, it is very important.”
Kensuke Nagai gave a devastating early demonstration of the talent that saw him picked for Japan’s Olympic squad earlier in the week, skinning the Reysol defense down the left before picking out Kennedy to back-heel Grampus into a ninth-minute lead.
But Reysol responded in the best way possible, Leandro rising at the near post to head home a corner from fellow Brazilian Jorge Wagner eight minutes later.
Masakatsu Sawa — who scored a hat trick in Reysol’s 6-2 thrashing of Gamba Osaka last weekend — hit the side netting two minutes later after combining neatly with Leandro, and Kennedy also went close at the other end amid a constant deluge of first-half rain.
Reysol came out fighting after the interval, with Leandro poking the ball wide of the post and Naoya Kondo heading narrowly over the bar, but Otani’s own goal stopped the champions’ momentum dead in its tracks. Jungo Fujimoto whipped in a dangerous corner, and the captain glanced a header past his own goalkeeper.
Substitute Junya Tanaka flashed a shot wide as Reysol went in desperate search of an equalizer, but a smart save from Nagoya goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki to deny Wagner foiled the home side’s best chance and secured the win for the visitors.
“These are three very important points,” said Stojkovic. “First of all I protected my jacket from the rain. Secondly we achieved exactly what we wanted to do — bring three points back to Nagoya.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Vegalta Sendai reached the halfway point on top of the table after a 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe, while second-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima claimed a 2-0 victory over third-place Jubilo Iwata.
Consadole Sapporo slumped to an eighth consecutive defeat in the day’s only afternoon kickoff after losing 1-0 to Albirex Niigata, while Urawa Reds held on for a 4-3 win over Sagan Tosu after taking a four-goal lead at Saitama Stadium.
Daigo Nishi scored the only goal as Kashima Antlers beat Omiya Ardija 1-0, FC Tokyo heaped more misery on struggling Gamba with a 3-2 win, and Shimizu S-Pulse and Kawasaki Frontale played out a 0-0 draw.
In the day’s other game, Yokohama F. Marinos and Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1.