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Frontale miss opportunity to leap ahead of first-place Reds

Kyodo

Kawasaki Frontale missed an excellent opportunity to wrest the J. League lead from Urawa Reds after losing 2-0 to Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday.

An early Rafinha penalty set Marinos on their way before Frontale midfielder Jumpei Noborizato was dismissed late in the first half for a dubious second booking. Substitute Shingo Hyodo scored the hosts’ second on the other side of halftime.

Kawasaki, which had won four of its last five, stood on 39 points, two points off the pace of Urawa, which shared the points in a 4-4 fireworks show at FC Tokyo. Sagan Tosu moved within a point of Reds after beating Ardija 3-1 in Omiya.

Frontale captain Kengo Nakamura questioned the decision of referee Masaaki Iemoto, who has a history of being involved in controversial games, to give Noborizato his marching orders.

It was Noborizato’s handball that awarded Marinos the penalty in the third minute.

“I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but you really have to wonder if (Noborizato) deserved to be sent off for that,” Nakamura said. “It seemed like the ref hadn’t even remembered he had given him one earlier.

“When you concede that early and then lose a man, it becomes really difficult to get back in the game, especially in the summer in this kind of heat.

“But there’s no need for us to become down; we can keep our chins up. Had we started going long when we went down to 10 men, it would have been a different matter but we stuck to the style that’s gotten us this far.

“We probably should’ve had a draw from this, but we’ve got plenty left to play.”

Yahiro Kazama’s men had to fight an uphill battle pretty much from start to finish in the prefectural rivalry, going down just minutes after kickoff.

Noborizato handled a cross from the left wing by Shunsuke Nakamura, forcing Iemoto to point to the spot. Rafinha coolly converted to score in his third straight game.

Frontale tried to counter and created the better moments, looking like it was just a matter of time before they equalized. However, the visitors were set back again in the 35th minute, when Noborizato was cautioned for a second time and sent off for the softest of challenges on Rafinha.

Despite being a man down for all of the second half, Kawasaki still outperformed Marinos whose focus had become keeping things tight at the back.

As the match grew testy with Iemoto failing to maintain order, both World Cup striker Yoshito Okubo and Renato hit the bar — but Frontale would not come any closer as Hyodo hammered the nail in the coffin after 76 minutes, his second goal of the campaign from a penalty-box scramble.

Marinos’ win, though, may have come at a cost as Rafinha limped onto the team bus post-game, with his right foot iced and bandaged.

“I’m really fit at the moment and I’m glad I could help the team win another three points,” the Brazilian said. “I just hope the injury isn’t anything serious.”

In other games in the top flight, Kashima Antlers leapfrogged Kawasaki into third place with a 3-1 win away to Shimizu S-Pulse, thanks to a Mitsuo Ogasawara brace.

Gamba Osaka eked out a 3-3 draw at Ventforet Kofu, champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima were held to a 0-0 draw at home by Cerezo Osaka and Nagoya Grampus drew 1-1 with visiting Kashiwa Reysol.

Vissel Kobe defeated Vegalta Sendai 2-1 at home, and last-place Tokushima Vortis picked up their third victory of the season with a 2-1 win over Albirex Niigata at the Big Swan.