Reysol, two rivals still in hunt for title


Staff Writer

Kashiwa Reysol kept their noses in front in the J. League title race with a 4-0 win over Albirex Niigata on Thursday as all three championship contenders claimed victories going into the final three games of the season.

Reysol began the match at Hitachi Stadium two points clear of Gamba Osaka and three ahead of Nagoya Grampus, and a first-half double from Leandro Domingues got the Chiba side off to the perfect start as it bids to win its first-ever J. League title just a year after gaining promotion from the second division.

Goals from Jorge Wagner and Junya Tanaka after the break secured the points from yet another impressive performance by Kashiwa, but a 1-0 win for Gamba over Kashima Antlers and a 3-1 victory for Grampus over Cerezo Osaka meant the day ended with the identity of this season’s champion little clearer than it was when it began.

“Motivation for the players and myself is extremely high, but we have to prepare for each game as it comes,” said manager Nelsinho of Reysol’s remaining matches against Shimizu S-Pulse, Cerezo and Urawa Reds. “Next we have S-Pulse, and they are a very good team who have been playing well recently.

“But we are top of the table, so if we continue to win our games then we will be champions. We are not watching what the other teams are doing. It’s up to us to do our job.”

The match was only six minutes old when Masato Kudo picked Kazuhiko Chiba’s pocket in the center circle before setting off toward the Albirex goal, and the tussle between the two continued until the defender brought his man down in the box for a penalty. Leandro made no mistake from the spot, placing his kick low into the corner past Yohei Takeda.

Kudo missed several chances to turn Kashiwa’s first-half dominance into more goals, but Leandro made it count with his second of the game in the 34th minute. Wagner knocked a simple ball over the top of the Albirex defense, and his fellow Brazilian swiveled to meet it with a delicate finish.

Bruno Lopes squandered a rare opportunity to pull one back for Albirex shortly after the interval, and Wagner duly punished the visitors with Kashiwa’s third in the 55th minute. Wataru Hashimoto swung in a cross from the left, and Wagner sent a glancing header beyond Takeda’s reach.

Cho Young Cheol immediately hit the post as Albirex launched into their best spell of the game, but the South Korean faded as time wore on and substitute Tanaka added Kashiwa’s fourth from a loose ball in stoppage time.

“In the first half we played with great quality, speed and judgement,” said Nelsinho. “We didn’t give them any big chances and we scored with the ones that came our way. Our superiority was clear in the first half, and although they caused us some problems after we had scored a third, we were able to get a fourth before the end. The players were excellent today.”

There was resolution at the other end of the table, however, with Montedio Yamagata’s 2-0 defeat to Vissel Kobe confirming the Tohoku side’s relegation to the second division.

Bottom side Avispa Fukuoka, whose place in J2 next season had already been confirmed, claimed a 2-2 draw with S-Pulse, but Urawa remains two points ahead of Ventforet Kofu in a desperate battle to avoid joining them after both teams crashed to defeats. Reds went down 3-0 to Jubilo Iwata, while Ventforet threw away a lead in the dying minutes to lose 2-1 to Yokohama F. Marinos.

Omiya Ardija took a huge step to safety with a 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale, while in the day’s other game, Vegalta Sendai and Sanfrecce Hiroshima drew 0-0.

Cassano awaits surgery

MILAN, Italy

AC Milan striker Antonio Cassano will reportedly have heart surgery Friday.

The procedure will be performed in Milan.