J. League title race heats up; Edmilson propels Reds past Jubilo


SAITAMA — Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka ramped up the pressure on Kawasaki Frontale in the J. League title race with wins on Saturday, while Urawa Reds salvaged some pride from a difficult season with a last-gasp 3-2 victory over Jubilo Iwata.

With Frontale not in action until Sunday’s away trip to Oita Trinita, Antlers beat Kyoto Sanga 1-0 to move into first place for at least a day, with Takuya Nozawa’s 37th-minute goal giving the defending champions a two-point lead at the top.

Third-place Gamba moved one point behind Frontale with a 2-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse, but the day’s drama unfolded at Saitama Stadium, where Edmilson completed his hat trick with the last kick of the game to salvage an emotional victory for Urawa.

The Brazilian opened the scoring midway through a first half entirely dominated by the home side, but Ryoichi Maeda struck twice inside four second-half minutes to give Jubilo the lead.

Edmilson hit back with a rebound from Marcus Tulio Tanaka’s shot against the post with eight minutes left to play, before rifling in a spectacular injury-time winner to grab a rare moment of joy for a team which threw away its title challenge with seven straight defeats over the summer.

“Today was a real spectacle,” said Urawa manager Volker Finke. “There were goals, shots against the post, and it was a great game to watch.

“It’s true this is not a good season concerning our ranking, but we have changed many things. We have changed our style of working, of training, we tried to change the professional rules a little bit and this is not so easy.”

He added: “If you change something there are always players who are not so happy with it, so it has been a very difficult season.

“It’s nice that that we showed such a good team spirit today.”

Reds took a deserved lead when Keita Suzuki released Naohiro Takahara down the left, and the former Eintracht Frankfurt man sent in a deep cross that Edmilson met with a looping header into the net.

Urawa kept Jubilo’s dangerous strike force of Maeda and Lee Keun Ho under wraps for the first half, but the shackles came off in devastating fashion 10 minutes after the break.

Lee sounded the alarm with a shot that drew a good save from Norihiro Yamagishi, before Maeda pounced on a cross from Shinji Murai a minute later to notch the equalizer.

With Urawa still reeling, Maeda struck again. Reds failed to clear as Daisuke Nasu got his head to a corner, and the striker reacted quickest to stuff home the loose ball.

Yuki Abe thundered a diving header against the crossbar as Urawa looked for a response, and Edmilson provided it with the equalizer seven minutes from time.

Takahara also hit the woodwork in a frantic final surge, but Edmilson had the last word when he arrowed in a shot from outside the box to leave Reds with at least a mathematical chance of pipping Gamba for a place in next year’s Asian Champions League.

Kashiwa Reysol eliminated Albirex Niigata from the race for third place with a 1-0 win at Big Swan Stadium, keeping the Chiba side’s hopes of escaping relegation alive in the process.

Omiya Ardija’s scoreless draw with Montedio Yamagata cut Ardija’s lead over Reysol to four points with two games to play, the first of which is a head-to-head meeting between the two sides.

In the day’s other games, Vissel Kobe and Yokohama F. Marinos played to a 2-2 draw and Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Nagoya Grampus settled for a scoreless draw.