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Sunday, Nov. 23, 2003

Jubilo nears J. League second-stage title

IWATA, Shizuoka Pref. (Kyodo) Jubilo Iwata moved a step closer toward successfully defending its J. League second-stage title as Masaaki Yanagishita's men came from behind to beat Gamba Osaka 2-1 on Saturday.

News photo
Jubilo iwata's gral scores on a penalty kick in the 60th min ute during a J. League first-division match against Gamba Osaka on Saturday at Iwata Stadium. Jubilo won 2-1.

Kota Yoshihara sprung the Iwata offside trap to fire Gamba in front after 15 minutes and the home side's comeback hopes were dealt a blow when midfielder Norihiro Nishi was sent off for his second bookable offense four minutes into the second half.

But Brazilian striker Rodrigo Gral sparked a determined fightback by putting Iwata on level terms from the penalty spot on the hour mark and, after Japan midfielder Takashi Fukunishi and Hiroshi Nanami both missed chances to put Iwata in front, substitute Takahiro Kawamura arrived unmarked to head home the winner on 72 minutes.

Gamba was also reduced to 10 men when Brazilian Harison was red-carded in the 74th minute.

"After (Nishi's) sending off all of the players worked that extra bit harder for each other and I thought we had a great second half," Yanagishita said after the match. "Three more points and the title is ours."

The win moved Iwata, which became the first team to win a two-stage double last season, three points clear at the top of the table on 26 from 14 games, although JEF United Ichihara could reduce the gap to one with a win over struggling Oita Trinita on Sunday.

Kashima Antlers will also be looking to stay in the thick of the league's closest ever title race when they take on Kashiwa Reysol at home on Sunday.

Iwata travels to first-stage winner Yokohama F. Marinos in the final round of matches next week, in what could turn out to be a preview of the two-leg J. League championship final scheduled for Dec. 6 and 13.

Tatsuhiko Kubo grabbed a hat trick as Yokohama moved into second and stayed in the running for back-to-back stage titles by thrashing lowly Vegalta Sendai 4-0 away.

FC Tokyo was held 1-1 at home to Tokyo Verdy, a result that ended both teams chances of winning the title.

Nabisco Cup winner Urawa Reds also slipped out of contention after a 4-1 whipping at Nagoya Grampus Eight, Brazilian striker Ueslei bagging a treble to move to the top of the first-division scoring charts.

Ueslei's hat trick was his seventh in the J. League and equaled the record set by Jubilo striker Masashi Nakayama.

At the other end of the table Vissel Kobe guaranteed itself top flight soccer next season with a 2-0 win at Kyoto Purple Sanga, which slipped further toward the relegation trapdoor.

Kyoto and Sendai occupy the two relegation spots and will both go down if Oita wins at Ichihara on Sunday.

Sendai travels to Oita in its final match next week while Kyoto is away to Gamba.

Cerezo Osaka plays Shimizu S-Pulse at Nagai Stadium on Monday.



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