Soccer / J. League

Frontale beat Gamba in thriller to stay in title contention

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Yoshito Okubo scored twice and Kawasaki Frontale kept alive their hopes of winning the second-stage title with a thrilling 5-3 win over defending champions Gamba Osaka in the J. League first division on Sunday.

Okubo gave Frontale an early lead and a peach from captain Kengo Nakamura made it 2-1 on the stroke of halftime after Patric had pulled one back for the visitors.

A fine solo effort from Yoshihiro Nakano made it 3-1 early in the second half, but former Kawasaki forward Patric struck again before substitute Shu Kurata grabbed the equalizer on 71 minutes.

However, Okubo swung the game back in Kawasaki’s favor when he stroked home his league-leading 21st goal of the season from the penalty spot with 15 minutes left and then set up an easy fifth for Elsinho.

“The players looked like they were having fun but it was hard work watching from the bench,” joked Kawasaki boss Yahiro Kazama.

The result puts Kawasaki on 23 points, five behind second-stage leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima with four games remaining. Gamba have 22 points.

“Obviously there are teams better placed than us to win the championship but there also games directly between teams in contention and we just have to keep winning,” said Kazama. “At the end of the day, all we can do is keep up the challenge.”

Frontale came into the game looking to extend their three-match winning streak and they made a dream start as Okubo struck with less than 90 seconds gone.

Nakano weaved his way into the box from the left flank and put the ball across the face of goal and Okubo darted in at the far post to tap in a simple finish.

“Today we were up against Gamba, so we were very determined to get an early goal and getting one made things easier on the team,” said Okubo. “Nakano put it on a plate for me and it was just a case of sweeping it in. Nakano did really well.”

Okubo nearly doubled the lead in the 10th minute after a flowing move, but Gamba goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi was equal to his stinging shot from the edge of the area.

Higashiguchi then got down to thwart Elsinho from close range midway through the first period.

Gamba looked sluggish after their midweek exertions in the Asian Champions League and were unable to create many opportunities of note in the first half, but Patric scored against the run of play to make it all square three minutes before halftime.

Kawasaki goalkeeper Shota Arai could not hold onto a cross-cum-shot from Yasuhito Endo and Patric gleefully snapped up the loose ball before wheeling away in delight and pumping his fist wildly in front of the Frontale supporters.

But Nakamura put Frontale back in front with virtually the last kick of the first half, taking a pass from Kenyu Sugimoto and rattling a beauty in off the inside of the left-hand post for his team’s 700th goal in the top flight.

Kawasaki extended their lead 10 minutes into the second half, Nakano squeezing between two defenders and drilling home to finish off a surging run into the box.

Gamba reduced the arrears on 66 minutes when Patric connected with a cross from Yasuhito Endo to complete his brace with a thumping header.

Kurata drove home a cross from Koki Yonekura to make it 3-3 but Okubo sent Higashiguchi the wrong way from the spot after Yonekura had fouled Shintaro Kurumaya and then provided an assist for Elsinho to roll into an empty net and seal victory.

“I was getting a bit worried about penalties,” said Okubo, who missed from the spot against Matsumoto Yamaga in June and also told reporters he had also failed to covert one in a training match.

“I didn’t want to dwell on that and I thought I would just take one today without worrying about whether I was going to miss it or not.”

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