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Sanfrecce rack up third straight victory

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Sanfrecce Hiroshima stepped up the defense of their J. League title with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shonan Bellmare on Saturday.

First-half goals from Yojiro Takahagi and Mihael Mikic at Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka were enough to secure the three points for the defending champions, who have now won three in a row and have a game in hand on leaders Omiya Ardija before the J. League winds up for its monthlong international break.

Sanfrecce will try to reduce the nine-point gap on Ardija at home to Kashiwa Reysol on Wednesday, and with his team one point better off than it was at the same stage last season, manager Hajime Moriyasu is gearing up for another tilt at the title.

“Our points total is not bad,” said Moriyasu of Sanfrecce’s tally of 23. “We have been playing in the Asian Champions League and the J. League, and we have also had some injuries. We have not been at our best, but we have not been doing badly.

“Whatever the situation, whichever players have come in have stuck to the task and done what I’ve asked of them. From here on we want to keep picking up the points in order to close the gap on the teams above us.”

Omiya profited from a second-minute red card for Masaru Matsuhashi to beat Ventforet Kofu 3-0 on Saturday, while second-place Yokohama F. Marinos also kept up the pace with a 1-0 win over Sagan Tosu. Sanfrecce moved up a place to fourth behind Kashima Antlers — who came from two goals down to beat FC Tokyo 3-2 — although Urawa Reds have the chance to reclaim third when they play Reysol on Sunday.

“We now have the game on Wednesday,” said Mikic. “If we win, then we will be fighting for the championship again. Six points is not easy to catch because Omiya have done a really good job this season. But if we have a chance we will be fighting again this year.”

Bellmare set about trying to frustrate Sanfrecce from the outset, but Takahagi soon found a way through as he filleted the home side’s packed defense in the 18th minute. The 26-year-old played quickfire return passes with Hisato Sato then Naoki Ishihara as he rampaged forward, before rifling a low first-time shot from outside the area into the corner of the net.

Sanfrecce kept up the pressure with Takahagi continuing to cause problems, but Kaoru Takayama wasted a rare chance to bring Shonan level when he blazed over the bar in the 37th minute.

The midfielder’s profligacy would come back to haunt Bellmare a minute before halftime, when Tsukasa Shiotani sent Mikic racing down the right wing before the Croatian brilliantly dispatched a shot from the tightest of angles.

“Our coaching staff prepared for his game unbelievably,” said Mikic. “All week their training led to how we scored the first goal, and also how we scored the second goal. These two situations come from how we have been trying to play all week in training.”

Takayama almost redeemed himself when his floated shot came back off the post with Bellmare enjoying something of a second-half resurgence, but Sato flashed a header against the underside of the crossbar as Sanfrecce closed out the game with few problems.

“Of all the 13 games we have played in the first division, this was the one that really showed the players what they have to do to play in J1,” said Bellmare manager Cho Kwi Jae, whose promoted team has picked up only two wins so far this season.

“This was a very important lesson for the players. We have to use the international break to make them aware of the standard they need to play at to compete in J1.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Vegalta Sendai 2-0, relegation strugglers Oita Trinita and Jubilo Iwata drew 1-1, and two goals from Yoshito Okubo gave Kawasaki Frontale a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata.

In the day’s late match, Cerezo Osaka beat Nagoya Grampus 2-1 to consign the 2010 champions to their fifth straight defeat.