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Title-chasing Kawasaki remains focused on task at hand

Kyodo

With the J. League first-stage title firmly in their sights, Kawasaki Frontale’s players were in a relaxed mood on Friday as they prepared for Saturday’s trip to rock-bottom Avispa Fukuoka.

Victory for Kawasaki, the league leader, in the second-to-last round of matches, coupled with a defeat for second-place Kashima Antlers at Vissel Kobe, would see Yahiro Kazama’s men claim their first-ever stage title.

“It all comes down to the desire to win,” said Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo, the top scorer in the J. League the last three seasons and second with 10 goals in the current campaign, trailing only Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s Nigerian forward Peter Utaka (12).

“If we can get an early goal then that will increase our chances of winning the match.”

Kawasaki has not been beaten since losing 1-0 at home to Urawa Reds on April 24th, while Fukuoka has won just twice in its return to the top flight via the J2 playoffs.

Frontale captain Kengo Nakamura is facing a race to be fit after hurting his back on Thursday and his possible replacement, Shohei Otsuka, said he was ready to seize his chance.

“There will be pressure, but this is a chance for me,” said Otsuka. “I want to get involved in goals.”

Okubo has been touted as a candidate to take the third and final overage spot for Japan’s team at the upcoming Rio Olympics, but Frontale team director Haruo Shoji said the striker’s name was not on the 35-man provisional list.

“There were only two players (available for Rio selection) from our team and they were (Ryota) Oshima and (Riki) Harakawa. There was no Yoshito.”

Defenders Tsukasa Shiotani of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Hiroki Fujiharu of Gamba Osaka are set to fill two of the overage places and the Japan Football Association is in talks with Urawa Reds forward Shinzo Koroki to take the last spot.