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The results of the 31st round open the door for a champion to be crowned in November, while one team took desperate measures to avoid relegation after their loss

ANALYSIS
By Dan Orlowitz

Results

Vegalta Sendai 1-1 Cerezo Osaka, Omiya Ardija 0-0 Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale 4-2 Urawa Reds, Shimizu S-Pulse 0-1 Albirex Niigata, Vissel Kobe 1-2 Yokohama F. Marinos, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-0 Consadole Sapporo, Sagan Tosu 3-2 Jubilo Iwata, Kashiwa Reysol 2-2 Gamba Osaka, Nagoya Grampus 1-0 FC Tokyo

THE WEEKEND STORIES

After spending several weeks even with Vegalta Sendai on points, Sanfrecce Hiroshima opened up a two-point lead following their 3-0 thrashing of relegated Consadole Sapporo that include a goal by league-leading scorer Hisato Sato.

Vegalta, for their part, were on the verge of losing their match to Cerezo Osaka before Naoki Sugai provided a 90th-minute equalizer. The match saw Cerezo veteran Ryuji Bando as well as manager Levir Culpi ejected from the match in the late stages.

Third-place Urawa Reds fell to Kawasaki Frontale in a 4-2 loss, virtually erasing any possibility of the Saitama side contending for the title. They were joined in points by Nagoya Grampus, who beat FC Tokyo on the match's lone goal courtesy of Marcus Tulio Tanaka.

In the race to safety, Albirex Niigata brought themselves even with 16th-place Gamba Osaka with a 1-0 win at Shimizu S-Pulse, who were already reeling from their J-League Cup disappointment. Gamba escaped Kashiwa Stadium with a 2-2 draw after a last-minute strike by Leandro.

THE STANDINGS | Top Four

  P W D L F A GD Pts
1 S. Hiroshima 31 17 7 7 58 31 +27 58
2 Vegalta Sendai 31 15 11 5 54 33 +21 56
3 Urawa Reds 31 13 10 8 42 39 +5 49
4 Nagoya Grampus 31 14 7 10 42 39 +0 49

STANDINGS | The Race to Safety

  P W D L F A GD Pts
14 Omiya Ardija 31 9 10 10 33 44 -11 37
15 Vissel Kobe 31 10 6 6 40 48 -8 36
16 Gamba Osaka 31 8 10 10 61 60 +1 34
17 Albirex Niigata 31 8 10 10 24 32 -8 34

*Consadole Sapporo have already clinched 18th place and relegation to J2 in 2013.

PLAYER OF THE WEEKEND

Leandro

Gamba Osaka

The Brazilian has been named Player of the Weekend several times before, but he continues to excel for his club and is single-handedly pushing them from the edge of the relegation cliff. His superb brace against Kashiwa Reysol last night gave Gamba a crucial point, putting them neck-and-neck with 17th-place Albirex Niigata with 34 points each.
QUOTES OF THE WEEKEND

"It's the first time we've been in the title race, and the first time for a Tohoku club. We're playing to remake history."
-Vegalta coach Makoto Teguramori on his team's chances of winning the league

"I'm frustrated that we can't score. I thought our team gave it all they could, but until our scoring becomes consistent we can't win the matches we're contesting."
-Vissel Kobe manager Akira Nishino after his team fell to 15th place

"I don't understand why we lost. But for us, earning an ACL spot would be as good as winning the championship."
-Urawa Reds manager Mihailo Petrovic after a 4-2 loss to Frontale all but eliminated the team's league hopes

ODDS & ENDS

Vissel Kobe manager Akira Nishino was dismissed on Thursday after Vissel failed to win their ninth straight match.

Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo received 9 stitches to his chin after the match, putting his NT call-up for Japan's World Cup qualifier at Oman at risk.

Also on Wednesday night, the Japan Under-19 team reached the quarter-finals of the AFC U-19 Championship, while Japan's Futsal NT reached the knock-out stage of the Fifa Futsal World Cup.

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