SAITAMA – Urawa Reds all but surrendered the J. League title to Yokohama F. Marinos after a 3-1 defeat to Kawasaki Frontale on Saturday.
Second-place Urawa went into the game at Saitama Stadium trailing league-leaders Marinos by a single point, but goals from Frontale’s Jeci and Yoshito Okubo and an own goal from Urawa’s Tomoaki Makino sank the home side and allowed Marinos to open up a four-point gap with two games remaining after a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata.
Third-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima lost 1-0 to Cerezo Osaka and fourth-place Kashima Antlers crashed to a late 2-1 defeat against Sagan Tosu, meaning Marinos can clinch their first championship since 2004 with a win at home to Albirex Niigata next Saturday.
“It’s a very damaging defeat for us, but I thought we played very good, aggressive attacking football for the first hour,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “I know people will ask why we lost, but that’s the way it goes.
“Yes we lost today, but I think you can see from the way we played that this team has made real progress in the two years I have been here. We now have two games left, and we’ll give everything we’ve got to win them.”
Yuji Nakazawa scored in the 69th minute to give Marinos a precious win over Jubilo, leaving Urawa one point ahead of Sanfrecce and two ahead of Kashima with the top three teams qualifying for next season’s Asian Champions League.
“We’ve conceded 47 goals, and if you concede as many as that it makes it very difficult to win the title,” said Urawa striker Shinzo Koroki. “If you concede first in a game it makes you anxious because you know you need to score, and we couldn’t play with composure today.
“We still have a slim chance of winning the title and we will keep going, but we want to make sure we get into the Asian Champions League.”
Frontale dealt Urawa an early blow when Jeci headed the visitors into the lead in the 12th minute. Urawa goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi turned away a shot from Kengo Nakamura to concede a corner, and Jeci rose unchallenged to head home the delivery amid a static Reds defense.
Okubo had a chance to make it two in the 30th minute only to dwell too long after pouncing on a mistake by Keita Suzuki, before the same player hit the post on the stroke of halftime when it looked easier to put the ball in the net.
But Urawa significantly upped the tempo after the restart, and the home side got its reward with the equalizer in the 57th minute. Genki Haraguchi burst down the left before playing Makino into the box, and the 26-year-old slid to fire a shot into the far corner past goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe.
Makino’s joy, however, would prove to be short-lived. Frontale full back Kyohei Noborizato sent a low cross into the Urawa box two minutes later, and Makino intervened to turn the ball past his own goalkeeper and hand Kawasaki the lead.
Yamagishi tipped over a shot from Renato in the 82nd minute as Frontale continued to break on the counterattack, and it was little surprise when Okubo hammered the final nail in Urawa’s coffin with Kawasaki’s third goal — and Okubo’s 25th of the season — in injury time.
“We managed to equalize but then they took the lead again very soon after, and that denied us the chance to settle,” said Petrovic. “The fact that they scored so quickly was very costly for us.”
At the other end of the J. League table, Shonan Bellmare became the third and final team to be relegated — along with Jubilo and Oita Trinita — after a 2-1 loss to FC Tokyo.
Omiya Ardija slumped to their 16th defeat in 17 games, 1-0 away to Shimizu S-Pulse, while Brazilian defender Daniel scored in the 93rd minute to give Nagoya Grampus a 3-2 win over Kashiwa Reysol.
In the day’s others games, Albirex Niigata beat Vegalta Sendai 1-0, and Trinita drew 0-0 with Ventforet Kofu.