Urawa Reds emerged victorious in a seven-goal thriller against FC Tokyo in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League, doing just enough to see out a 4-3 win on Saturday.
The first-stage winners took an early lead against the runners’ up when Tokyo goalkeeper Vlada Avramov met Tomoya Ugajin’s cross with a meek push that fell to Yosuke Kashiwagi, who made no mistake from inside the area.
The 27-year-old then turned provider for Yuki Muto to double their side’s lead, though Takuji Yonemoto put in captain Keigo Higashi to score from the tightest of angles and halve the deficit.
But Takahiro Sekine restored the Reds’ two-goal lead when he lashed home after reacting quickest to a loose ball in the box, ensuring Mihailo Petrovic’s men finished the first period in control.
The visitors continued cruising after the break, and some fine build-up play set up Tomoaki Makino on the edge of the box for the centre-back to pick out the top corner of Avramov’s net with a first-time finish that any striker would have been proud of.
At 4-1 up, the Reds made the mistake of allowing the capital side back into the game and Kosuke Ota added another assist to his tally in a remarkable season, crossing for Hideto Takahashi to power home a header in the 74th minute.
Failing to heed the threat posed by Takahashi, Urawa allowed Ota’s corner to reach the midfielder 10 minutes later, allowing him to prod home from point-blank range after Shusaku Nishikawa failed to get to the ball first.
With the score sitting precariously at 4-3, Nishikawa partially redeemed himself with a superb reaction save on Keigo Higashi’s shot from close range, securing the Reds victory and denying Tokyo a point with practically the last kick of the game.
The race to see who will face the victors from the first stage for the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League championship took another turn, as Sanfrecce Hiroshima went three points clear at the top of the second stage standings with their 2-0 win at Ventforet Kofu.
First-half goals from Douglas and Kohei Shimizu proved enough to ease the 2013 champions to a priceless victory in an open and even affair, as second-placed Kashima Antlers slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Shonan Bellmare.
Stunned by Shunsuke Kikuchi's fifth-minute opener, Antlers were unable to react and duly went down by another goal after Shota Kobayashi capitalised on a poorly cleared corner.
Masatada Ishii’s side subsequently applied pressure and Yuma Suzuki headed against Bellmare’s post in the 85th minute before Mu Kanazaki pulled one back from a corner, but the hosts ultimately managed to hold on for a pivotal result that will determine who clinches the title.
Elsewhere, Kazuma Watanabe’s hat-trick allowed Vissel Kobe turn around their recent terrible run of form by defeating Montedio Yamagata 3-1.
The forward turned in Michihiro Yasuda’s cross from point-blank range for the opener after 22 minutes, before completing his treble in the second half after Alceu temporarily equalised for the visitors.
Kashiwa Reysol continued preparations for their entry into the Emperor’s Cup with an impressive 3-0 win away to relegated Shimizu S-Pulse.
Yuki Otsu opened the scoring in style with a shot from outside the box that Rikihiro Sugiyama could not keep out of his net.
Cristiano then doubled the lead with an even more flamboyant finish, lifting the ball over Sugiyama after spotting the keeper off his line, and Tetsuro Ota repeated the same move down to the letter in the 86th minute to seal an impressive victory.
Nagoya Grampus left it late to see off Albirex Niigata 4-2 at Paloma Mizuho Stadium, with Kensuke Nagai’s brace instrumental to seeing off the plucky visitors after they took a surprise lead.
Current MEIJI YASUDA J1 League top scorer Yoshito Okubo received his marching orders in stoppage time as his Kawasaki Frontale fell 1-0 at home to Yokohama F.Marinos - Alceu directing the only goal of the game into the net from Shunsuke Nakamura’s free-kick.
Lastly, Sagan Tosu put some distance between themselves and the bottom three of the second stage with a 2-1 win at Matsumoto Yamaga, Hiroyuki Taniguchi and Kota Mizunuma goals overturning Obina’s opener.