SAITAMA – Kawasaki Frontale sent the J. League championship title race down to the wire with a gutsy 1-0 win away to newly crowned Asian club champions Urawa Reds on Wednesday night.
Kawasaki needed all three points to stay in with a chance of catching leaders Kashima Antlers, and captain and leading scorer Yu Kobayashi delivered what proved to be the winner in the 14th minute at Saitama Stadium.
“We managed to score but after that had periods where our backs were against the wall. It was a really difficult game so I am glad (we could hold on),” said Kobayashi.
The result moved Kawasaki (69) within two points of Antlers (71) going into the last round of matches on Saturday.
Defending champion Kashima, which was held 0-0 by Kashiwa Reysol on Sunday, travels to Jubilo Iwata, while Kawasaki is at home to already relegated Omiya Ardija.
Frontale have a far superior goal difference to Kashima and a win for Toru Oniki’s men coupled with a draw or defeat for Antlers would see them come from behind to claim their first major domestic title.
“The other result (in Kashima’s game) comes into play but we just have to keep victory on our minds,” said Kobayashi.
Reds threatened to take an early lead when Yuki Muto forced a crucial save from Kawasaki goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong from point-blank range.
But Akihiro Ienaga capitalized on sloppy defending from Mauricio on the right flank and whipped in a cross for Kobayashi to slide home his 20th league goal of the season.
Kobayashi nearly doubled Kawasaki’s lead on the half hour, unleashing a low shot that Shusaku Nishikawa parried before Elsinho sent the rebound into the side netting.
Reds increased the pressure after the break but Jung got down smartly to gather a shot from Daisuke Kikiuchi in the 69th minute.
Kawasaki got a major fright in the dying seconds but Tomoaki Makino somehow contrived to send a completely free header wide of the mark.