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Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010

S-Pulse's title hopes take hit against upset-minded Ardija

Staff writer

SAITAMA — Omiya Ardija put a crimp on Shimizu S-Pulse's title ambitions and boosted their own hopes of first-division survival with a 3-0 win on Saturday.

News photo
Good job: Omiya Ardija forward Lee Chun Soo is congratulated by defender Mato after scoring a goal in the 73rd minute against Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday at NACK5 Stadium Omiya. Ardija won 3-0. KYODO PHOTO

S-Pulse headed into the match at Nack5 Stadium five points behind league-leader Nagoya Grampus in third place, and with Omiya beginning the day in the relegation positions and Nagoya not in action, the stage seemed set for Kenta Hasegawa's side to cut the gap.

Instead Omiya blew a sluggish S-Pulse out the water. Rafael started the rout with a well-taken opener on the stroke of halftime, before Mato Neretljak headed in a second and South Korean World Cup striker Lee Chun Soo put the result beyond doubt in the 73rd minute.

S-Pulse started with seven players who began Wednesday's Nabisco Cup quarterfinal win over FC Tokyo, but Hasegawa preferred to look elsewhere for explanations despite the 34-degree heat of an afternoon kickoff.

"The heat in Saitama is rather special, and it's very different from what we experience in Shizuoka," he said with tongue firmly in cheek. "The conditions were the same for Omiya as they were for us.

"There are no excuses. Omiya played very well and deserved their win. (Shinji) Okazaki and (Jungo) Fujimoto have been away with the national team, and they were tired and didn't move as well as I expected them to. But the Nabisco Cup players ran until the end and it's not their fault. I'm the one who picks the team."

Omiya went close to breaking the deadlock with first-half chances for Chikara Fujimoto, Rafael and Neretljak, but Rafael ensured the home side would head into the break with its nose in front. Shin Kanazawa threaded the ball through in the 45th minute, and the Brazilian kept his cool to rifle it past Nishibe for the 200th first-division goal in Ardija's history.

Fujimoto almost notched No. 201 when he lashed a shot against the bar in the 61st minute, but Neretljak was on hand to seal the deal a minute later. Fujimoto swung in a corner from the left, and the Croatian connected as goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe flapped hopelessly in front of him.

Rafael slashed at a chance to extend the lead soon after, but the Brazilian instead turned provider as he played Lee into space to notch the third with a deft chip.

Shusuke Tsubouchi received a straight red card for taking out Okazaki with the striker clean through on goal in the 85th minute, but the visitors failed to take advantage when Jungo Fujimoto blasted the resulting free kick into the wall.

"We played very well and it was disappointing to get a red card at the end," said Omiya manager Jun Suzuki. "We need to learn how to close out games.

"The first goal was something we had been working on in training, the second goal was a set piece and the third was a counterattack, so it was nice to get a variety of goals. We had lost two league games in a row before this, and I told the players how important it was to get something today."

Elsewhere in the J. League, second-place Cerezo Osaka shaved a point off Nagoya's lead with a 1-1 draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, while Kashima Antlers beat Vegalta Sendai 1-0.

Yokohama F. Marinos beat Kawasaki Frontale 3-1 for their third straight win, while Ryoichi Maeda's 82nd-minute strike gave Jubilo Iwata the edge over Shonan Bellmare 3-2. In the day's other games, Gamba Osaka topped Albirex Niigata 2-1 and Kyoto Sanga beat Vissel Kobe 3-0.

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