KASHIWA, Chiba Pref – Gamba Osaka kept leaders Urawa Reds in their sights with a gritty 2-1 win away to Kashiwa Reysol in the J. League on Saturday.
Substitute Ryuji Bando canceled out a superb strike from Brazilian forward Franca and Yasuhito Endo coolly slotted home from the penalty spot moments later to keep the pressure on reigning champions Urawa.
With six games of the season remaining, Urawa, who host Oita Trinita on Sunday, lead the standings with 61 points, with Gamba three points back.
Third-placed Kashima Antlers (54) kept their slim outside chances of winning the title alive as Shinzo Koroki grabbed a first-half brace in a 3-2 win at home to Vissel Kobe.
Gamba strolled in the sunshine in the first 20 minutes at Kashiwa Stadium, with Bare, who sent Reysol down to the second division with a six-goal haul for Ventforet Kofu here in the second leg of a promotion/relegation playoff in 2005, causing the home side plenty of problems.
The Brazilian striker hit the post with an angled drive after two minutes and then forced Yuta Minami into action from close range before the visitors hit the woodwork again through Akihiro Ienaga on 17 minutes.
Tadanari Lee had Kashiwa’s best chance of the half with a deflected drive went narrowly wide just before the half hour mark.
Bando replaced Bare after the break after the latter picked up an injury and the tide turned in Kashiwa’s favor seven minutes into the second period when Lee set up Franca to rifle home a thumping first-time effort.
However, Gamba hit back on 65 minutes when Bando climbed to power home Akira Kaji’s pinpoint cross and Endo sealed the points in typical fashion from the spot after Shinichi Terada had been taken down by Ryo Kobayashi.
At the other end of the table, 10-man Omiya Ardija succumbed to a last-gasp Edmilson strike in a 1-0 defeat at Albirex Niigata while fellow strugglers Kofu went down by the same scoreline at home to in-form JEF United Chiba, who collected their sixth win in a row.
In other games, Sho Naruoka came off the bench to score the only goal of the game as Jubilo Iwata won 1-0 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima while a late Naohiro Ishikawa effort saw FC Tokyo come from behind to edged Yokohama F Marinos 2-1 at Ajinomoto Stadium.
In Saturday’s evening game, South Korean striker Cho Jae Jin stole the show with a hat-trick as Shimizu S-Pulse blanked Nagoya Grampus Eight 3-0.
Sunday’s other fixture sees struggling Yokohama FC play Kawasaki Frontale at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
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