SAITAMA — Shimizu S-Pulse all but killed off Urawa Reds’ J. League title hopes with a 2-1 win on Sunday, on a day when Kashima Antlers, Nagoya Grampus and Kawasaki Frontale all surged away from the chasing pack.
Despite starting the day just one point off the top, Urawa lacked any kind of urgency as Takuma Edamura gave S-Pulse a 22nd-minute opener at Saitama Stadium.
A brief spurt midway through the second half allowed Reds to draw level through Marcus Tulio Tanaka, but Takuro Yajima scored a well-deserved winner with less than 10 minutes to play to leave Urawa’s championship hopes drowning in the wake of the other contenders’ success.
Atsuto Uchida gave leaders Kashima Antlers a 1-0 win over Oita Trinita at Kyushu Oil Dome, while Frontale leapfrogged Reds with a 4-0 demolition of Asian champion Gamba Osaka.
There was further drama at Nishikyogoku Stadium, where an injury-time penalty from Frode Johnsen gave Nagoya Grampus a 3-2 win over Kyoto Sanga, after Atsushi Yanagisawa had canceled out Nagoya’s early 2-0 lead. FC Tokyo also struck late to salvage a 1-1 draw at Vissel Kobe.
The results leave Kashima on top with 57 points, followed by Grampus on 55 and Frontale on 54. Urawa is one point behind, one ahead of Trinita and FC Tokyo.
The table did not make comfortable viewing for Reds manager Gert Engels.
“It was a big one today,” he said. “In the second half before and after Tulio scored we were very good, but we came into the penalty area with really big chances and couldn’t score.
“We needed to win, we wanted to win, but they scored on the counter and it is always difficult if you go a goal down.
“We need to hope now that the teams in front of us lose, but it is not such a high percentage. We have another objective, which is the top three to get into the Champions League.”
After Reds had huffed and puffed for the first 20 minutes without ever really threatening the S-Pulse goal, Shinji Okazaki fired a warning shot across the home side’s bows before Edamura struck for real.
Akihiro Hyodo guided a pass through the heart of the Urawa defense that Edamura met brilliantly on the half-volley, thumping the ball past Ryota Tsuzuki.
Urawa restarted the match a goal down but with the same lack of urgency, and although Tatsuya Tanaka had a chance to level the score after a clever turn in the box, Reds looked utterly bereft of ideas.
Things got no better after the break as attacks broke down and S-Pulse began to see more of the ball, but with the crowd growing restless, Sergio Escudero raised morale with two dangerous shots at goal, before Tulio took Takahiro Soma’s cross down on his chest and cracked a shot past Kaito Yamamoto for the equalizer.
But just as Urawa thought another goal was coming, Yajima scored it at the other end. Hyodo played the substitute into the box, and Yuki Abe was caught horribly short of pace as Yajima beat him to the ball for the winner.
In the day’s other games, JEF United Chiba’s survival hopes took a heavy blow with a 3-0 loss to Yokohama F. Marinos, while fellow struggler Jubilo Iwata claimed a roller coaster 3-3 draw at home to Kashiwa Reysol. Albirex Niigata conceded a late goal in a 2-2 tie with Omiya Ardija, while Tokyo Verdy and already-relegated Consadole Sapporo drew 1-1.