Urawa Reds had their title celebrations put on hold after being held to a 0-0 draw away to FC Tokyo in the penultimate round of J. League first-division matches on Sunday.
Urawa looked set to clinch its first league crown even with the stalemate, but Magno Alves headed home to complete a hat trick deep into second-half injury time to give rival Gamba Osaka a 3-2 win over Kyoto Purple Sanga and set up a grandstand finish to the season.
Urawa welcomes Gamba to Saitama Stadium 2002 with the upper hand next Saturday, as it boasts a far superior goal difference to the defending champion.
After 33 matches, Urawa has 69 points with a goal difference of plus-38, while Gamba has 66 points and a plus-33 goal difference.
At Ajinomoto Stadium, FC Tokyo belied their lowly position in the table and were unlucky not to go into the break a goal to the good after completely outplaying Urawa in an entertaining first half.
Yuta Baba hit the side netting after a cut back from Yuhei Tokunaga, and Japan international Yasuyuki Konno went closest to breaking the deadlock when his left-footed drive was well saved by Norihiro Yamagishi just after the half hour mark.
The home side continued to dictate the pace of the game after the interval, but Urawa almost scored against the run of play when Nobuhisa Yamada rounded Hitoshi Shiota only to miss the target by a whisker.
His head bandaged after a 15th-minute collision with Baba, Urawa keeper Yamagishi produced two stunning saves in the last four minutes from Norio Suzuki and Lucas as Urawa held on to get one hand on the championship trophy.
At Expo Stadium, Brazilian striker Magno Alves gave Gamba a glimmer of hope when all seemed lost as he climbed to meet Akihiro Ienaga’s cross and seal victory with a league-leading 25th goal of the season.
Kyoto slipped through the relegation door in their first season back in the top flight.
In other matches it was: Kawasaki Frontale 3, Kashima Antlers 2; Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2, Albirex Niigata 1; Kofu 2, JEF United Chiba 3; Yokohama F. Marinos 0, Oita Trinita 1; and Jubilo Iwata 1, Shimizu S-Pulse 0.
Yokohama moves up
Brazilian striker Alemao struck a late winner to ensure Yokohama FC top flight soccer for the first time in the club’s history after a 1-0 win away to Sagan Tosu in the J. League second division on Sunday.
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