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Monday, Oct. 6, 2008

JEF tops title-chasing Reds, extends winning streak to five games

Staff writer

CHIBA — JEF United Chiba's remarkable bid for first-division survival claimed another high-profile victim with a 3-2 win over title-chasing Urawa Reds on Sunday.

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Great start: Dodgers hurler Hiroki Kuroda delivers a pitch against the Cubs during Game 3 of their NL Division Series game on Saturday in Los Angeles. Kuroda threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings in his first postseason start to lead the Dodgers to a series sweep. AP PHOTO

JEF, which has now won five straight games and climbed out of the drop zone after looking dead and buried earlier in the season, got off to the perfect start when Masaki Fukai opened the scoring with just 28 seconds gone at Fukuda Denshi Arena.

Marcus Tulio Tanaka replied for Urawa eight minutes later, but Chiba survived Reds' first-half dominance for Fukai to strike again after the restart, before Michael made the crucial three points safe shortly afterward.

Edmilson notched a late goal for Reds, but it was not enough to keep the Asian champion from dropping points in a title race which none of the leading pack seems to want to win.

Nagoya Grampus failed to reclaim the top spot, despite salvaging a late 1-1 draw with Tokyo Verdy, leaving Kashima Antlers in first place with six games of the season left to play.

With fellow struggler Jubilo Iwata crushing all-but-doomed Consadole Sapporo 5-0 also on Sunday, the win keeps JEF out of the bottom two and on course for a relegation reprieve that looked very unlikely when the two sides met in May. That 3-0 win for Reds cost JEF manager Josip Kuze his job, but his replacement, Alex Miller, has instilled new belief in a side that he has transformed into a successful unit.

"I asked the players to accept the challenge," Miller said. "Urawa is very good physical side with international players, and they know how to win. The most important thing was that we accepted the challenge.

"We can't get carried away. This is like a marathon run, and we have got ourselves back in the pack. . ."

With Urawa defending its continental title in an Asian Champions League first-leg semifinal clash against Gamba Osaka on Wednesday, manager Gert Engels all but conceded the J. League championship race after the defeat.

"Quite frankly I think to win the J. League we would have to win six games in a row," he said.

Urawa's defense was caught horribly napping when Tatsuya Yazawa picked up the ball before cutting inside past Keisuke Tsuboi and sliding the ball across to Fukai. With Tulio's mind wandering as far as his defensive partner's, Fukai was left free to ghost into the box and tuck the ball past Ryota Tsuzuki.

Tulio soon atoned for his error as he profited from Edmilson's persistence eight minutes later, latching onto a through-ball after the striker had won back possession to fire Reds back into the match.

Urawa gained the upper hand as Nobuhisa Yamada and Keita Suzuki's held court in a hectic midfield, but JEF went closest to restoring its lead before halftime as Ryota Aoki and Seiichiro Maki both saw headers hit the post.

Kohei Kudo blasted wide as JEF came out fighting after the interval, and Fukai made the pressure count when he pirouetted in the box and blasted his second past Tsuzuki.

Maki then harried Tsuboi into losing possession near his own goal, and the striker squared the ball across the box for Michael to drill into the corner for JEF's third.

Edmilson reduced the deficit with a tap-in from Yuichiro Nagai's cross in the 43rd minute, but the home side rode the late storm to keep its incredible streak alive.

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