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Sagan beat Marinos to retain top spot

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

First-half goals from Kim Min-woo and Kei Ikeda ensured surprise leaders Sagan Tosu retained top spot in the J. League with a 2-1 win at Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday.

Kim and Ikeda gave Tosu a two-goal cushion after 16 minutes and Yoon Jong-hwan’s team held on to take maximum points in a tense finish to the game, after Shunsuke Nakamura pulled one back with a blockbuster for Marinos in the 90th minute.

After the final round of games before Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni names his squad on Monday for the World Cup finals in Brazil, Tosu leads the table with 27 points from 13 games, one point ahead of Urawa Reds, who claimed local bragging rights with a 2-0 win at Omiya Ardija.

“We are delighted with this result,” Yoon said. “We have had a very tight schedule but the players showed high levels of concentration.”

Sagan dominated the opening stages in bright and breezy conditions at Nissan Stadium and got their noses in front after 10 minutes.

Marinos keeper Tetsuya Enomoto could only parry a stinging drive from Kota Mizunuma, and Kim beat his marker to slide home the rebound.

Enomoto was then called upon to make a couple of key stops before Ikeda doubled the lead on 16 minutes, getting his head on the end of a Michihiro Yasuda cross at the far post for his first goal since April 12.

“I have had a lot of chances in recent games but couldn’t take them and feel like I have let down the team. Hopefully from now on, I can keep putting the chances away,” Ikeda said.

With Nakamura starting on the bench, Marinos looked bereft of ideas and Jungo Fujimoto’s shot from distance just before the half-hour was easily dealt with by Tosu custodian Akihiro Hayashi.

Marinos improved with the introduction of Nakamura for Yoshihito Fujita in the second half, and some neat link-up play with Manabu Saito nearly produced a goal, Saito firing just wide of the far post on 50 minutes.

With time running out, Nakamura picked up a loose ball and spotted Hayashi off his line before uncorking an epic strike from 25 meters, but Tosu stood firm for the win.

In other games, champions Sanfrecce were held 1-1 at home by Shimizu S-Pulse, Milivoje Novakovic canceling out Hiroshima defender Tsukasa Shiotani’s 14th-minute effort, while Pedro Junior gave Vissel Kobe a 1-0 win over Ventforet Kofu at Noevir Stadium.

Yoshito Okubo, tipped as a possible surprise in Zaccheroni’s World Cup squad, scored twice as Kawasaki Frontale hammered Kashima Antlers 4-1.

Bottom club Tokushima Vortis played out a 0-0 draw at home to FC Tokyo and at Toyota Stadium, Gamba Osaka put one over on their former manager Akira Nishino as Kotaro Omori’s 85th-minute strike earned a 2-1 win over Nagoya Grampus.

Ryang Yong-gi’s strike gave Vegalta Sendai a 1-0 win at Cerezo Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol won 1-0 at home to Albirex Niigata, courtesy of a 73rd-minute goal from London Olympic defender Daisuke Suzuki.