SUITA, Osaka Pref. – Brazilian striker Araujo scored his 31st league goal of the season as leader Gamba Osaka returned to winning ways with a 2-1 defeat of Urawa Reds in the J. League first division on Saturday.
Fernandinho fired Gamba into a 30th-minute lead, and Araujo added the second six minutes from time at Expo Stadium to give his side the perfect tonic after last week’s Nabisco Cup final defeat to JEF United Chiba. Alessandro Santos replied with a late free kick for Urawa.
Gamba, which had lost its previous two league matches, moved three points clear at the top of the table after second-place Kashima Antlers were held to a 1-1 draw at home to FC Tokyo.
“It was a very tough match, but our fans really got behind us today and that’s why I was able to get that goal. I’m pleased I was able to take that chance,” said Araujo.
“All the players were really disappointed about losing in the Nabisco Cup last week and were really fired up to win today.”
Kashima led through Daiki Iwamasa’s strike after 18 minutes, but it had to settle for a share of the spoils as Yasuyuki Konno equalized for visiting Tokyo shortly before the interval.
In an earlier kickoff, Tatsuya Furuhashi struck a superb late free kick as Cerezo Osaka kept in touch with the leaders with a 1-0 win at relegation-haunted Tokyo Verdy but JEF’s title hopes took a blow after they squandered a two-goal lead and were held 2-2 at home to Jubilo Iwata.
With four games left to play, Gamba head the table on 57 points with Kashima on 54 and Cerezo on 53. Urawa and JEF follow with 50 points each.
At Ajinomoto Stadium, Cerezo had Takanori Nunobe sent off with 13 minutes remaining but Verdy, which was left to rue a hatful of missed opportunities, also finished with 10 men, and it was Kenta Togawa’s foul that led to Furuhashi’s 89th-minute winner.
Togawa was given his second yellow and his marching orders for a rugby tackle on Teruaki Kurobe, and Furuhashi stepped up to rifle home the resulting free kick from 25 meters.
At a packed Fukuda Denshi Arena, JEF led 2-0 at halftime thanks to a Yuki Abe header and a close-range effort from Yuto Sato, brilliantly set up by Ilian Stoyanov.
But Shinji Murai silenced the boo boys as he came back to haunt his old club by setting up goals for Ryoichi Maeda and Yoshiaki Ota.
At the foot of the table, bottom club Kobe looks almost certain to go down after a 3-1 defeat to Kawasaki Frontale while Kashiwa Reysol twice came from behind to hold Albirex Niigata to a 2-2 draw but are third from bottom.
Elsewhere, Omiya Ardija eased relegation fears with a 3-2 win at home to Nagoya Grampus Eight, Yokohama F Marinos won 1-0 away at Shimizu S-Pulse while Oita Trinita thrashed Sanfrecce Hiroshima 4-0 away.
Kashima Antlers midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara and FC Tokyo defenders Akira Kaji and Teruyuki Moniwa picked up injuries in Saturday’s J. League match between the two teams, making their status uncertain for Japan’s home friendly against Angola next Wednesday.
Ogasawara aggravated an injury in his right knee and also hurt a left-leg muscle, while Kaji and Moniwa both injured their right ankles.
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