They’ve been atop the table or thereabouts for the best part of 27 rounds, and now Sanfrecce Hiroshima have a five point margin between them and nearest rivals Vegalta Sendai and Urawa Reds.
With seven games to go the Purple Archers find themselves clear with striker Hisato Sato setting the league on fire. Sato has 20 goals from his 27 appearances, with only the second of his penalty tally converted on the weekend. His nearest rival Ryoichi Maeda of Jubilo Iwata is chasing shadows along with the rest of the league. Maeda has 12 goals from 27 matches, while Gamba Osaka’s recent signing Leandro has blitzed his way to 11 goals from just 8 matches.
Surely Sato is knocking on national team manager Zaccheroni’s door loud enough now. He is streets ahead of any rivals and at 30 years of age he can still figure at the 2014 World Cup in fine fettle.
The win against Sagan Tosu was never in doubt. Although taking 30 minutes to go ahead the home team would have a two goal buffer at half time. Sato picked up his first via the awarding of a controversial penalty. He went on to set up the third goal in the 58th minute, before settling the match with his second goal by lobbing an advancing Akahoshi in goal for Sagan Tosu. The goal came in injury time and put the icing on the cake as Sagan had picked up a consolation goal in the 92nd minute.
Urawa Reds lived dangerously in their defeat of Kashiwa Reysol. They went behind in the 15th minute when a corner from Reysol found its way into the six yard box and got deflected in the wrong direction. Reds keeper Nobuhiro Kato was dumbstruck when he received a ball to the head, which bounced into the crossbar and back down behind his flailing arms. Unlucky, but the Reds hadn’t dominated and at times seemed more intent on laying down to grab the attention of the referee then continue to attack the Reysol goal. Evergreen Tadaaki Hirakawa was guilty along with Brazilian Marcio Richardes. Surprisingly Genki Haraguchi was replaced in the 27th minute by Popo. Umesaki fired the Reds level when Hirakawa’s lead up work saw Marcio’s shot blocked, the deflection was conveniently travelling in the vicinity of Umesaki who simply passed it into the back of the net.
As popstar Haraguchi sat forlorn on the bench throughout the second half it seemed his team’s title aspirations were slipping away, as a draw would have left the Reds seven points from Hiroshima. But relief would come in the form of a monumental mix up at the back. For unknown reasons Koji Inada felt he should advance from his usual position and greet his defender at the edge of the eighteen yard box. But Haraguchi’s replacement Popo pounced on the Reysol pow-wow and whipped the ball into an empty net. 2-1 Reds alive!