• Kyodo

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Douglas headed in the 86th-minute winner as Vissel Kobe claimed a hard-fought 1-0 home win over Avispa Fukuoka in the J. League top flight on Saturday, retaining control of the battle for a final top-three spot.

Left back Ryo Hatsuse’s cross found the Brazilian at the far post at Noevir Stadium, where the forward soared high to meet it and scored off the post to spark wild celebrations by the home team and fans.

The win took Vissel to 60 points as it seeks automatic qualification for next season’s Asian Champions League, three ahead of their next league opponent Nagoya Grampus, the only Japanese side left in the continental competition this year.

“It was a pattern we always practice, Ryo gave me a good ball and I timed my jump well,” Douglas said. “I could head it into the ground, which makes it difficult for goalkeepers.”

Former Barcelona prodigy Bojan Krkic had the first chance of the game in the 10th minute when he found a pocket of space to turn in the opposing half, but his fierce left-footed drive from outside the box was denied by Avispa keeper Masaaki Murakami.

Avispa had a glorious opportunity in the 28th minute but Takeshi Kanamori failed to control the ball with just the keeper to beat and they barely threatened in the second half.

Hatsuse’s long-range effort tested Murakami before Andres Iniesta sent his low effort from the edge of the box just wide past the hour mark, with Yoshinori Muto also denied from distance as Kobe looked set for a draw against the stubborn Fukuoka defense.

But Hatsuse combined well with Yuta Goke to wriggle his way through down the left before providing the winner to leave the battling visitors empty-handed.

Despite their loss, other results ensured Avispa’s spot in the J1 next season with 46 points from 32 games. Starting in 2002, the club had repeated a cycle of earning promotion after four J2 seasons only to be relegated following one year in the top flight.

Elsewhere, second-place Yokohama F. Marinos kept their title hopes alive with a late 2-1 comeback win at home over Consadole Sapporo. Kenyu Sugimoto headed in the 84th-minute leveler before Daizen Maeda volleyed home the winner four minutes later.

The result leaves F. Marinos on 72 points, nine behind leader Kawasaki Frontale with six games to go.

Urawa Reds were denied a home win over Gamba Osaka, the game ending 1-1 after both sides scored from late penalties.

Sagan Tosu was held 1-1 at home against Shonan Bellmare, while Kashiwa Reysol won 1-0 at Shimizu S-Pulse.

Yokohama FC kept their survival hopes alive with a 5-3 win over Tokushima Vortis.

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