TOSU, SAGA PREF. – Urawa Reds surrendered a last-gasp equalizer, and quite possibly the J. League title with it, after they were held to a 1-1 draw away to 10-man Sagan Tosu on Saturday.
Yuki Abe’s second-half penalty looked to have clinched the three points and moved Reds within one win of the title, but Teruaki Kobayashi headed the equalizer with virtually the last play of the game.
The result saw Urawa concede its lead at the top of the table to treble-chasing Gamba Osaka, who beat Vissel Kobe to set up a grandstand finish to the league season next weekend.
The pendulum has swung in Gamba’s favor as they beat Kobe 3-1 at home thanks to goals from Takashi Usami (two) and Brazilian strike partner Patric and moved top on goal difference.
Nabisco Cup winners and Emperor’s Cup finalists Gamba travel to already relegated Tokushima Vortis in the final round of matches next Saturday, while Reds host Nagoya Grampus.
“We have to take this result on the chin and there is no need to be down as long as we are still in with a shout,” said Urawa defender Daisuke Nasu.
“We were patient today and dug in but what happened at the end happens in soccer. It is not over yet though and we just have to keep going.”
Urawa has a history of late slip-ups and the pressure again took its toll last weekend when the former Asian champions squandered the chance to win the title with two games left, suffering a 2-0 defeat at home to Gamba that saw its lead trimmed to two points.
“It is difficult to make comments looking at our situation,” said Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic. “We conceded in the 88th minute against Gamba and then in the 94th today. We are conceding late goals and not getting results and these last two games have really hurt us.
“But as long as there is a possibility (of us winning the title) then we will keep battling until the very end.”
“It hurts to concede top spot before the last game of the season but as long as there is a possibility (of us winning the title) then we will keep battling until the very end.”
Gamba and Urawa both qualified for the Asian Champions League, while the team that finishes third will enter a playoff for the ACL. The third-place team will qualify directly if Gamba win the Emperor’s Cup and the fourth team enters a playoff.
At the other end of the table, Cerezo Osaka were relegated to the second division after a 4-1 defeat at home to Kashima Antlers and third-from-bottom Omiya Ardija look the favorites to join them in J2 after they lost 2-1 at Grampus, Yoshizumi Ogawa scoring the winner deep into injury time.
Omiya’s defeat leaves it three points behind 15th-place Shimizu S-Pulse, who lost 3-1 at Kashiwa Reysol.
In other games, Kawasaki Frontale drew 1-1 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Vegalta Sendai edged Tokushima 2-1, Yokohama F. Marinos beat Albirex Niigata 1-0 and FC Tokyo drew 0-0 with Ventforet Kofu.