NIIGATA – Shinzo Koroki struck twice to keep leaders Urawa Reds in contention for a league and cup double after a last-gasp 2-1 win away to Albirex Niigata in the J. League first division on Saturday.
Koroki opened the scoring early in the first half with a sharp finish and bundled home the winner for the League Cup winners in the last minute after Rafael Silva had leveled for the home side at the Big Swan.
With just two games of the season remaining, Reds’ fifth league win in a row keeps them top with 70 points, one ahead of Kawasaki Frontale, who won 2-0 at home to reigning champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima courtesy of late goals from Kentaro Moriya and Kengo Nakamura.
“It was fiercely competitive and Niigata didn’t really allow us to play our game,” said Koroki. “It was a scrappy goal (at the end) but I am really pleased that we have taken the three points.”
“We could only really attack down the flanks because it was all bunched up in the middle, but we broke them down. (Takahiro) Sekine put in the cross and before that Chun (Tadanari Lee) had broken things up so this was the whole team’s goal.
“Winning the League Cup was a breakthrough for us and now we want to win the Championship title.”
Reds got off to a fast start and took the lead after seven minutes through Koroki’s well-taken effort.
The former Kashima Antlers man got a good first touch on a deep pass from Wataru Endo and kept his head to clip past Niigata goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita.
But it did not take long for the home side to get back on level terms. Silva latched onto a wayward back pass from Ryota Moriwaki just inside his own half and raced past Endo to slot past Shusaku Nishikawa.
Urawa went close to regaining the lead 11 minutes before the break, but Morita pulled off an acrobatic save to tip over Toshiyuki Takagi’s free kick.
Niigata substitute Musashi Suzuki thought he had headed Niigata in front with 12 minutes left, only for his diving header to be ruled out for offside.
Niigata went close again but Koroki snatched victory in the dying seconds, prodding home from close range after Lee had dummied Sekine’s cross.
At the other end of the table, Shonan Bellmare were relegated after going down 3-2 away to Omiya Ardjia, Dragan Mrdja scoring twice for Ardija.
Shonan join already doomed Avispa Fukuoka in the second division next season. Nagoya Grampus dropped back down to third from bottom in the overall standings, behind Niigata on goal difference. The 2010 champions were held 1-1 at home to fellow strugglers Jubilo Iwata, who are just three points above the drop zone.
In other games, Kazuki Oiwa sealed a 3-0 win for Vegalta Sendai at home to Vissel Kobe, ending Kobe’s second-stage title hopes in the process.
Daichi Kamada’s double helped Sagan Tosu win 3-2 at Kashiwa Reysol, while former Japan striker Ryoichi Maeda scored the winner in FC Tokyo’s 2-1 defeat of first-stage winners Kashima Antlers at Ajinomoto Stadium.
Yosuke Ideguchi’s brace earned Gamba Osaka a 2-2 draw at Yokohama F. Marinos and Dudu’s late strike lifted Ventforet Kofu above the relegation zone as they edged Fukuoka 2-1 away.
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