Yokohama F. Marinos missed a string of chances against relegation-haunted Tokyo Verdy 1969 before Japan international defender Yuji Nakazawa’s late header gave the boys in blue a deserved 1-0 win at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Saturday.
The breakthrough for Yokohama came on 82 minutes. Brazilian Dutra whipped in a venomous free-kick from the left, and the ball skimmed off the head of Marinos captain Nakazawa past Yoshinari Takagi in the Verdy goal.
Verdy is mired deep in the drop zone, second-from-bottom on 26 points, and the once-mighty Tokyo team is now in serious danger of going down.
Verdy manager Vadao expected no helping hand, though, from a Marinos side that hovers in mid-table.
“I expected a tough match today, and it indeed became like that. At the same time, though, we are not playing the way we want to play. Marinos is one of the most famous clubs, and the game was almost like a derby match,” he said.
“In the first half, Marinos had a few good chances to score but couldn’t score a goal. But we couldn’t capitalize on our good opportunities to score, either.”
A fizzing performance from Yokohama’s flying wing back Dutra was just the tonic for the 19,377 fans who braved a drizzly Tokyo afternoon, his marauding runs down the left hand side causing the ponderous Verdy defense problems throughout.
But for a misfiring forward line, Marinos could have been three-nil up by the break.
Twice Marinos striker Tatsuhiko Kubo was guilty of missing chances from point-blank range, first by firing over with the first chance of the game and then when his tame effort was cleared off the line after good work by Daisuke Sakata.
But while Marinos were creating chance after chance, Verdy strikers Washington, Gil and Takayuki Morimoto were left woefully short of service. The Brazilian Washington, who is second-top scorer in the J. League with 21 goals so far, unsettled the Marinos backline early on, and it was Verdy’s inability to move the ball forward quickly that visibly demoralized the thick-set striker as the game progressed.
Elsewhere, Japan international Alessandro Santos scored twice in the first half and Marcus Tulio Tanaka headed the winner in the second as Urawa Reds kept within touching distance of leader Gamba Osaka with a 3-2 victory against Kawasaki Frontale at Saitama Stadium 2002.
Santos scored a ninth-minute penalty and rattled home another in the 35th minute before a gutsy Frontale pulled two goals back before halftime.
But in the 76th minute Tanaka rose to direct a Juninho cross past Takashi Aizawa and move the Reds up to third spot.
Kawasaki frustration boiled over in the dying minutes as substitute Ken Tokura was sent off for violent conduct after a bad challenge on Urawa ‘keeper Ryota Tsuzuki.
The top two teams play on Sunday with league leader Gamba up against FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium while second place Kashima Antlers visit Cerezo Osaka.
Gamba plays JEF United Chiba in the Nabisco Cup final next Saturday, and Ivica Osim’s men warmed up with a 1-0 win away to Oita Trinita, Yuta Sato heading the winner with nine minutes remaining to keep their double dream alive. Sanfrecce Hiroshima, meanwhile, snuffed out Jubilo Iwata’s title hopes with 3-1 away win, Susumu Oki, Galvao and Hisato Sato all scoring. Gamba leads with 54 points after 28 games, with Kashima two points behind in the same number of games. Urawa is third with 50 points from 29 games, with JEF on 49 from 29 and Cerezo on 49 from 28.
In other matches, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Nagoya Grampus Eight 2-1, while Omiya Ardija topped Kashiwa Reysol 2-1.
Bottom club Vissel Kobe drew 1-1 with Albirex Niigata and is five points behind Verdy and nine points adrift from third-from-bottom Kashiwa Reysol. The bottom two teams are automatically relegated.
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