Japan midfielder Takashi Fukunishi struck a late equalizer to salvage a point for leaders Jubilo Iwata in a tense 1-1 draw with Nagoya Grampus Eight in the J. League first division on Saturday.
Perennial underachiever Nagoya had looked set to blow the title race wide open when Brazilian striker Ueslei powered home Kunihiko Takizawa’s corner in the 74th minute.
But Fukunishi kept Jubilo one point clear at the top of the 16-team standings when he stabbed home substitute Aleksander Zivkovic’s lofted ball from the right six minutes from time at Iwata Stadium.
The result kept Iwata in sole possession of the lead with 21 points, one ahead of JEF United, which was held 0-0 at home to FC Tokyo, while Kashima Antlers moved into third on 19 after a 2-0 win at Vegalta Sendai.
Nagoya, the only unbeaten team left in the division, is a further point behind with five games of the first stage remaining.
Second-half goals from Masashi Motoyama and Brazilian Claudecir gave Kashima its first win in four matches and revived its first-stage title hopes.
In other matches, resurgent Kashiwa Reysol held on to earn a 0-0 draw at Oita Trinita after having defender Norihiro Satsukawa sent off 11 minutes into the second half.
Japan Under-22 striker Yoshito Okubo celebrated his midweek call up to the senior national side for the upcoming friendly with South Korea with his sixth goal of the season in 10-man Cerezo Osaka’s 4-2 win at lowly Kyoto Purple Sanga.
Kyoto continues to prop up the 16-team standings after slumping to its eighth defeat while third-from-bottom Tokyo Verdy, also reduced to 10 men, overcame Vissel Kobe 3-2 at home.
Yokohama F. Marinos host Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka entertains Shimizu S-Pulse on Sunday.
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