/

Vegalta held by Sagan ahead of ACL showdown

Kyodo

Vegalta Sendai and Sagan Tosu shared the points in a stifling 1-1 draw in the J. League on Sunday.

Naoyuki Fujita drew first blood for Tosu in the opening half before Sendai striker Shingo Akamine leveled minutes after halftime as the two struggling sides failed to give themselves a boost up the table.

“It was an extremely tough game,” Vegalta boss Makoto Teguramori said. “We were hoping to push the tempo a little more than we did, but I suppose 1-1 is a fair result.”

Both clubs have fallen short of expectations a quarter of the way through the season, after Sendai finished runnersup to Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Tosu placed fifth — the highest finish ever for a team debuting in J1.

Vegalta, who are second in their Asian Champions League group and have every shot of qualifying for the second round, came into the weekend in 12th and Sagan at 15th, having lost their last three.

Sagan opened the scoring on the quarter-hour after Vegalta defender Makoto Kakuda gave away a free kick on the edge of the box. Fujita rifled the ball through the wall, stinging Takuto Hayashi’s left palm as the midfielder opened his 2013 account.

The hosts equalized on the other side of halftime, when Wilson set up Yuki Muto who hit the far post from the inside-left channel. Akamine then volleyed home the rebound for his first goal of the season.

Sagan should have left the premises with three points as they had a pair of great late chances, but substitute Yoshiki Takahashi first fired wide right from the heart of the area before Ryota Hayasaka was denied by the woodwork.

“It’s a little disappointing because we had opportunities to win away to Sendai,” Tosu manager Yoon Jong Hwan said. “We won our last Nabisco Cup game and we wanted to keep it going. Hopefully, we can regain our form from last season.”

Teguramori’s men are at home to Chinese side Jiangsu Sainty in the ACL on Wednesday, when they could advance to the round of 16.

“People saw this as a game between 12th and 15th, but a year ago we were second and fifth,” Teguramori said. “Not a whole lot separates us from the rest of the league. Hopefully, we can start turning it around from here.

“It would be a huge feat for the club if we qualify for the knockout phase in our first appearance in the competition. I hope it will be the start of a big May.”