FC Tokyo emerged 1-0 victors at Albirex Niigata on matchday 8 of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League to continue leading a chasing pack vying for AFC Champions League qualification next season.
Massimo Ficcadenti’s men have emerged as contenders to challenge for the league title this season, finishing Wednesday’s action back in third and the final automatic qualifying berth for the ACL.
And securing the minimum of reaching continental competition in 2016 appears to be the objective of the capital club, after Masato Morishige struck an 87th minute winner in a smash-and-grab victory over Albirex that proved their resolve.
Tokyo effectively displaced Kawasaki Frontale, another leading candidate for ACL qualification next season, in the table, after the latter’s 1-4 drubbing at the hands of Kashiwa Reysol.
The hosts were dominated from the start despite Shogo Taniguchi’s opening the scoring in the 43rd minute; Kosuke Taketomi needing only three minutes to level the score for Reysol, with a little help from the post.
Frontale looked shocked and the visitors capitalised, Masato Kudo scoring a brace from headers - the second his 50th J1 League goal - after the break before supplying Cristiano for his team’s fourth in a glorious day at the office.
An important three points secured took on even more significance later for the current ACL Group E leaders, as they loom in the rear-view mirrors of rivals Sagan Tosu after the latter surrendered 4-2 at Shonan Bellmare.
The 2014 J2 winners ended a run of three consecutive defeats when they powered back into a 3-1 lead through Shuhei Otsuki, a Kaoru Takayama blockbuster and Tsuyoshi Shimamura despite Hiroyuki Taniguchi temporarily drawing Sagan level.
Shimamura would go on to secure his brace in the 76th minute, pouncing on a shot blocked by visiting goalkeeper Taku Akahoshi, with Yohei Toyoda’s strike a minute after simply keeping the score respectable for Sagan.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima ensured they have completely overcome a wobble in the first weeks of April, coming from behind to beat Yokohama F.Marinos 2-1 away for third win in a row via goals from Douglas and Hisato Sato either side of half time.
Gen Shoji and Caio ensured Kashima Antlers defeated Vegalta Sendai 2-1 to respond in the best possible way to a home hiccup last weekend, though the J.League title already seems out of sight given the insatiable form leaders Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka are in.
Tsukasa Umesaki had fired the Reds into the lead against Ventforet Kofu, before Zlatan Ljubijankic proved the wisdom of his signing when he blasted in at the second attempt after seeing his penalty initially saved for a tidy 2-0 win at Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium.
Nothing seems capable of stopping Takashi Usami either this season, as he netted the winner in Gamba Osaka’s 1-0 win over Matsumoto Yamaga - his ninth goal this season.
Despite defeat, Yamaga still find themselves three points above the drop zone thanks to Shimizu S-Pulse’s thrilling 3-3 draw against fellow relegation candidates Montedio Yamagata.
A stunning first-half blitz by the home team in which they went 3-0 up was only eclipsed by Yamagata’s second-half one, as Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s side rallied to come back all the way in a devastating 10-minute spell in the closing stages of the match.
Two sides that look of achieving mid-table security this season on the other hand are Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus.
The latter emerged the victors when the pair clashed on Wednesday, Kensuke Nagai turning home the rebound off a corner for the 1-0 result at Noevir Stadium.