Cerezo Osaka extended its unbeaten run to 14 league matches and moved level on points with local rival Gamba Osaka at the top of the J. League after a 1-1 draw with Oita Trinita on Wednesday.
Faltering Gamba now leads the standings only by virtue of a superior goal difference after Tatsunori Hisanaga’s late strike gave Omiya Ardija a 1-0 win in Saitama, condemning the visitors to their fourth defeat in five games.
Kashima Antlers remain in the picture despite a 2-0 reverse at home to Yokohama F. Marinos while JEF United Chiba kept its title hopes alive with a 1-0 defeat of Urawa Reds at Fukuda Denshi Arena.
At the other end of the table, once-mighty Tokyo Verdy’s top-flight status hangs by a thread after a 0-0 draw at home to Nagoya Grampus Eight, and Verdy must now beat fellow struggler Kashiwa Reysol in a do-or-die match on Saturday to avoid the drop.
At Nagai Stadium, Brazilian midfielder Fabinho marked his return from suspension by firing Cerezo into a 20th-minute lead before Oita leveled nine minutes from time through substitute Masato Yamazaki.
With two matches of the season remaining, Gamba and Cerezo have 57 points while Kashima is two points off the pace.
JEF, which faces Gamba next in a rerun of the Nabisco Cup final, had Koki Mizuno to thank for a last-gasp strike in an ill-tempered affair that saw 10 yellow cards handed out with Escudero seeing red late in the match for Urawa. Both teams are four points off the lead.
Kashiwa earned a 0-0 draw away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima but remains third from bottom while Shimizu S-Pulse is all but guaranteed a place in J-1 next season after a 1-0 win over already relegated Vissel Kobe, Marquinhos scoring a last-minute winner.
Kashiwa, which avoided the drop last season after winning a two-leg playoff against Avispa Fukuoka, has 32 points, five clear of Verdy.
Elsewhere, FC Tokyo ran out 1-0 winners away to Albirex Niigata while Bobby Cullen and Ryoichi Maeda were both on target in Jubilo Iwata’s 2-0 win at Kawasaki Frontale.
FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Avispa Fukuoka secured a return to Japan’s top flight after a four-season absence after a 0-0 draw with Tokushima Vortis in the J. League second division on Wednesday.
Fukuoka joins champion Kyoto Purple Sanga in the first division next season after the point earned at Hakata-no-Mori Stadium was enough to guarantee it the second of two automatic promotion spots.
Third-placed Vegalta Sendai ran out comfortable 3-0 winner over Mito Hollyhock to improve to 67 points, but cannot catch Fukuoka, which moved to 74 points with two matches left to play.
The third-placed team in the second division can still go up if it beats the third-from-bottom team in the first division in a two-leg promotion-relegation playoff.
Fukuoka narrowly missed out on promotion last season after it was beaten in the playoff by Kashiwa Reysol.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.