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Sanfrecce fail to reclaim top spot after Albirex stalemate

Kyodo

Sanfrecce Hiroshima missed their chance to reclaim the top spot in the J. League after the reigning champions were held to a 0-0 draw away to Albirex Niigata on Sunday.

Niigata, which stunned Kashima Antlers 2-1 away last week, had the better of the chances in the second half at Big Swan but was unable to capitalize on sloppy defending as Hiroshima tired following its midweek exertions in the Asian Champions League.

The result leaves Hiroshima on 17 points but trailing leaders Vissel Kobe, who beat 10-man Kashima on Saturday, only on goal difference. Albirex are seventh on 13 points.

Niigata striker Kengo Kawamata went close on a handful of occasions, blazing wide after a misplaced pass from Toshihiro Aoyama before the World Cup hopeful was thwarted twice in the space of three second-half minutes by Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi.

Despite being second best for long stretches of the second half, Hiroshima manager Hajime Moriyasu was pleased with the effort shown by his players, who were coming off a 2-2 draw away to Beijing Guoan on Wednesday in the ACL.

“Obviously it is best to be winning. We have a crammed scheduled and we were playing a team in form today, but the players toughed it out right until the end and earned a valuable point,” he said.

“In the second half, the difference between the teams — one playing in the J. League and one playing in both the J. League and the ACL — was one of physical strength. We were on the back foot but still dug in deep.”