• Kyodo


Defending J, League champions Yokohama F. Marinos closed the gap on table-topping Jubilo Iwata after a 2-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Wednesday evening.

News photoRyuji Bando (left) of Vissel Kobe shots the ball past Jubilo Iwata’s Toshihiro
Hattori at Iwata Stadium in Shizuoka Prefecture.

South Korea striker Ahn Jung Hwan and midfielder Yoshiharu Ueno both found the target for the second game in a row as Takeshi Okada’s men moved within one point of Iwata, which had to come from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at home to Vissel Kobe.

Jubilo moved on to 31 points with two games of the first stage remaining thanks to a late equalizer from Japan midfielder Takashi Fukunishi.

Ryuji Bando scored a stunning double in five first-half minutes to put Kobe into a commanding lead at Yamaha Stadium but Japan Olympic team striker Ryoichi Maeda reduced the deficit by prodding home a Hideto Suzuki cross at the far post on the hour mark.

Iwata pressed for an equalizer and was rewarded when Fukunishi capitalized on confusion in the Kobe defense and poked the ball over the line nine minutes from time.

“It’s a shame we could only manage a draw but I’m pleased with the way the players battled their way back into the game,” Iwata manager Takashi Kuwahara said after the game.

When told the result of the Yokohama match by a television reporter, Kuwahara replied, “I couldn’t care less what anyone else is doing we just have to keep concentrating on grinding out the results.”

Iwata, which became the first team to win a two-stage double in 2002, can clinch the title on Saturday with a win at Kashima Antlers coupled with a defeat for Yokohama, which visits lowly Kashiwa Reysol.

At International Stadium Yokohama, Ueno gave the home side the lead with a looping header and Ahn wrapped up the win shortly after the half hour a clinical finish.

Elsewhere, Kashiwa was left rooted to the foot of the table after a 1-1 draw away to third-placed Urawa Reds while fellow struggler Cerezo Osaka went down 1-0 at home to local rival Gamba Osaka, Satoshi Nakayama’s 74th minute header separating the sides.

At Tokyo’s National Stadium former African Player of the Year Patrick Mboma completed the scoring in Tokyo Verdy’s 3-0 win over Kashima, which had Akira Narahashi sent off.

Brazilian striker Marquinhos scored twice to cancel out Norio Suzuki’s double and earn JEF United Ichihara a 2-2 draw at home to FC Tokyo, Toshihide Saito snatched a last-gasp equalizer to give Shimizu S-Pulse a 3-3 draw away to Albirex Niigata while Nagoya Grampus Eight defeated Oita Trinita 2-1.

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