• Kyodo


Kawasaki Frontale put aside their off-field distractions for an afternoon to produce a much needed win to stay in the J. League title race, defeating Albirex Niigata 3-0 on Friday.

Without captain and reigning league MVP Kengo Nakamura, Hiroyuki Abe stepped up with a goal and a pair of assists to lead Kawasaki to their first victory in five games.

Frontale’s first win at Todoroki Stadium in nearly two months came at just the right time, with the club having been penalized a day earlier by the Asian Football Confederation with a $15,000 fine and a one-year probation sentence for their fans’ flying of a controversial wartime flag during a recent Asian Champions League match.

Abe, Kawasaki’s close-season signing from Gamba Osaka, was relieved Toru Oniki’s men managed to end a winless drought under intense scrutiny.

“We finally won,” said Abe, who scored his second goal for Frontale, who climbed to sixth place on 16 points, five points off the pace of Kashima Antlers. “I get a lot of chances playing for this club so I hope to be scoring more goals.”

The hosts drew first blood five minutes before halftime, when Abe sent Rhayner through for the Brazilian’s first goal in Japan.

Japan international Yu Kobayashi doubled Kawasaki’s lead in the 50th minute from a short ball played by Abe, who closed the scoring with a quarter-hour left, netting off the palm of Koki Otani from the edge of the box.

Niigata wallows in the relegation zone at 17th with a meager five points.

Oniki was pleased to see his team hop back on the winning track.

“We couldn’t find our rhythm early on, but we eventually settled and found a way to score in the first half,” he said. “We persevered until our third goal. I thought our buildup of the goals was good.”

In another J1 game, Gamba wasted a grand opportunity to top the table after being held to a 1-1 home draw by Shimizu S-Pulse.

Tiago Alves opened the scoring for Shimizu in the 49th minute with his third goal in four games. Kurata equalized for Gamba after 57 minutes, but the hosts could not find a way to move in front, going up only slightly to 19 points.

S-Pulse have not won their last four matches.

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