OSAKA – Surprise package Cerezo Osaka defeated Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 to move within one point of J. League leader and local rival Gamba Osaka on Sunday as Vissel Kobe was relegated to the second division.
Second-half goals from Tatsuya Furuhashi and Hiroaki Morishima lifted perennial struggler Cerezo onto 56 points, one behind Gamba, which was beaten 2-1 on the road by Nagoya Grampus Eight. Claiton struck the winner for Nagoya in the 67th minute.
Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds also stayed in the thick of the title race with three games remaining, but Kobe became the first relegation casualty after a 1-0 home defeat by Omiya Ardija.
Kobe is propping up the division with just 21 points, and 17th-placed Tokyo Verdy looks set to join Kobe in J-2 after the once-mighty club was thrashed 4-1 away to Urawa and finished the game with nine men.
Robson Ponte was twice on target for the fourth-placed Reds, who are four points off the pace, but Kashima missed the chance to move level on points with Gamba after it was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw at Oita Trinita.
Omiya boosted its chances of survival in its first season in the top flight with the Kobe win, while Shimizu S-Pulse also got a crucial three points in its bid to avoid the drop.
S-Pulse grabbed a late 2-1 win at 10-man Kashiwa Reysol, which is third from bottom and could be headed for another promotion-relegation playoff with the third-place finisher in J-2 for the second year in a row.
Elsewhere in J. League action, Albirex Niigata managed a 3-2 victory at Jubilo Iwata and FC Tokyo got the best of Nabisco Cup winner JEF United Chiba 2-1.
Yokohama F. Marinos ran out 3-1 winners in a home match against Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
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