The J League never fails to surprise. Title contenders Urawa Reds dawdled to a 1-1 draw with 10 man Omiya Ardija in the local derby while Gamba Osaka managed to crash back to earth via promoted Sagan Tosu 4-1. Meanwhile at the summit once again are the team from Sendai after overturning a 1-nil deficit.
The Reds with their massive support base (39814 on Saturday) managed to waste a golden opportunity to press their claims for the title. After going ahead early via Genki Haraguchi, with compliments of a casual Marcio Richardes assist the home team looked set to do just what pundits expected. And 18 minutes into the game Omiya import Novakovic received his second yellow. It seemed fairly innocuous from Novakovic, who tugged a shirt but then accidentally clipped the feet of the man in possession (Abe). Unfortunately this incident was on top of a previous foul. So Omiya were down to ten and before half time Haraguchi would be one on one with the keeper, and Brazilian Richardes directed his header into the upright from 6 yards.
The Reds would live to rue the opportunities lost as relegation battling Omiya scrounged a goal from an oblivious Urawa. A seemingly ‘run of the mill’ one-two from close to twenty-five metres out triggered Keigo Higashi’s shot clock. Bang! Suddenly Omiya were level. The underdogs were within their right to park the bus and the closest the home team got in the second half was in the 85th minute when 24 year old defender Ugajin tried his luck from long range at a ridiculous angle and struck the woodwork. Statements on the Urawa website from manager Mihailo Petrovic were positive despite the result, “It was unfortunate that the ball hit the goal post or the goal bar several times . . . Nonetheless, they fought through at full stretch until the very end.”
North Korean Ryang Yong Gi did the job for steady Vegalta Sendai. The team from the tsunami battered prefecture are in position to complete one of professional sports greatest triumphs. Now back on top, the club have been a permanent fixture in and around the ACL positions all season. Despite returning from the half time break 1-nil behind Kawasaki, Vegalta rallied in front of the packed Yurtec Stadium (17159). In the 56th minute midfielder Tamura leveled the scores with a well placed header, but the best was yet to come. Captain courageous Yong Gi would curl a free kick in at the keepers right upright in the 63rd minute and despite a few defensive heart tremors the home team were able to sustain the lead and go top of the table.
At the other end of the table Niigata slipped further behind fellow strugglers Cerezo Osaka. With the opportunity to leap frog the Kansai outfit Niigata were unable to score a goal again. They went down 1-nil to a Cerezo side that started to look better as the game wore on.
Next round (Sept 15th) Gamba face Niigata in the match which could decide the fate of either team’s J1 survival hopes. Stay tuned!