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Okubo strikes as Kawasaki keeps pressure on Urawa

Kyodo

Yoshito Okubo scored one goal and assisted another as Kawasaki Frontale stayed right on the tail of J. League leaders Urawa Reds with a 3-1 victory at red-hot Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday.

Eduardo Neto netted his first goal in Japan for Kawasaki, which improved to 24 points from 11 games, one point behind Urawa which has a game in hand and defeated Omiya Ardija 1-0 away in the Saitama derby.

Shinnosuke Nakatani struck the lone goal for Kashiwa, which stood on 18 points and had its seven-game win streak in all competitions stopped.

Okubo was pleased to see his team prevail in a tough environment at the Hitachidai.

“We found a way to score early in the second half and that allowed us to play the game at a tempo we like,” said Okubo, who has seven goals this season, a tally of two behind J1’s top scorer Peter Utaka of Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

“I can’t remember the last time we won here. The supporters are right on top of you at this stadium and they don’t make it easy for the away sides. So it was nice to get a win here.”

Before the game, Okubo’s name surfaced as a candidate to be one of Japan’s three overage players for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

While the two-time World Cup striker would not confirm if he has been approached by the Japan Football Association, Okubo, who played at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said he is willing to offer his services.

“If we do have that conversation — and I’m not saying we’ve had such a conversation — I want to say that I will do whatever I can for Japan,” he said. “That’s all I can say right now.”

Kashiwa’s run of clean sheets came to an end at five games. Kawasaki’s Brazilian midfielder Neto opened the scoring in the 15th minute, pouncing on a loose ball with his left foot.

The hosts, though, were back in the game by the 30th minute, when 20-year-old Nakatani scored his first career goal, a soft header from a Ryosuke Yamanaka free kick.

Three minutes later, Frontale should have made more out of a free kick won by Ryota Oshima just off the penalty area. But Kengo Nakamura harmlessly hit straight into the wall, sparing Reysol — yet only for the remainder of the half.

It was none other than the league’s all-time top scorer, Okubo, who decided the game after 52 minutes.

Moments after he had a header waived off for offside, Okubo made sure he was in position on another, this time nodding in an Elsinho cross from point-blank range to give Kawasaki the 2-1 lead.

Okubo, who has scored 163 goals during his career, turned creator five minutes to the hour to effectively lock up all three points for Frontale, floating in a pass for Yu Kobayashi, who volleyed home his fifth goal of the campaign.

Kashiwa manager Takahiro Shimotaira, who has done a remarkable job of turning around the team after his predecessor Milton Mendes quit three games into the season, said Reysol simply allowed too much of the possession to a Frontale team who thrive with the ball at their feet.

“Obviously, it’s not good when your defense concedes three goals but if you allow them as much time on the ball as we did today, you’re bound to give up lots of goals,” Shimotaira said.

“We have to spend more time attacking and force opponents to do more defending so we can take the pressure off ourselves.”

In other J1 games, Utaka’s brace sent defending champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima to a 3-0 home win over Sagan Tosu, and Gamba Osaka was held to a 0-0 draw by Albirex Niigata at the Big Swan.

Vissel Kobe edged Nagoya Grampus 1-0 away, while Yokohama F. Marinos drew 2-2 to Ventforet Kofu at Nissan Stadium. Vegalta beat Avispa Fukuoka 2-0 in Sendai.