SHIMIZU, Shizuoka Pref. – The J. League first-stage title race will go down to the wire as 10-man JEF United Ichihara was beaten 3-0 at Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday, while Yokohama F. Marinos and Jubilo Iwata both posted vital wins.
A win for Ichihara, previously unbeaten on the road this season, coupled with defeats for Iwata and Yokohama would have landed Ivica Osim’s men their first ever J. League title.
But the three points never came and Yokohama emerged as the favorite to clinch first-stage honors in the final round of matches next Saturday after a second-half double from Tatsuhiko Kubo gave it a 2-1 win at Gamba Osaka.
Yokohama moved to the top of the table on 29 points from 14 games, one clear of defending champion Iwata, which won 1-0 away to Kashiwa Reysol, while Ichihara dropped from first to third on 27 points.
Victory for Yokohama in its final game at home to Vissel Kobe, trashed 8-0 at home to Oita Trinita, will guarantee the 2000 first-stage winner the title.
Iwata hosts FC Tokyo while Ichihara plays Urawa Reds at National Stadium in their final matches.
Any hopes of unfashionable Ichihara securing the silverware with a game to spare were washed away in the first 15 minutes in a constant downpour at Nihondaira stadium.
Yoshikiyo Kuboyama lashed home his first goal of the season on four minutes to put Shimizu in front and South Korea striker Ahn Jung Hwan made it two 11 minutes later after Ichihara’s ‘keeper could only parry Teruyoshi Ito’s shot.
The visitors rarely troubled the Shimizu defense and the match was all over as a contest shortly before the interval as a double deflection from Ahn’s shot found former Japan midfielder Ito, who calmly slotted home the third.
At Expo stadium, sometime Japan striker Kubo put Yokohama in front with a towering header on 51 minutes and sent a message to watching national team coach Zico with a spectacular volley to complete his brace three minutes later.
In Tokyo, Toshiya Fujita scored the only goal of the game in the 56th minute, stabbing home from close range as Iwata held on for all three points after defender Toshihiro Hattori was sent off midway through the second half.
Elsewhere, Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma scored twice as resurgent Tokyo Verdy defeated Nagoya Grampus Eight 4-1 at Mizuho stadium, while Urawa Reds won 3-2 at home to Vegalta Sendai.
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