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Soccer: Oita put Kawasaki's title celebrations on hold

Oita Trinita's Naoki Nomura (10) scores a penalty past Kawasaki Frontale goalkeeper Jung Sung Ryong during the first half of a J-League football match on Nov. 21, 2020, at Showa Denko Dome in Oita, southwestern Japan. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Oita Trinita forced Kawasaki Frontale to postpone their title celebrations on Saturday, beating the runaway J-League first division leaders 1-0 after their captain, Shogo Taniguchi, was sent off in the 34th minute.

    Taniguchi earned a straight red after pulling down Trinita midfielder Naoki Nomura, who converted the subsequent penalty kick at Oita's Showa Denko Dome.

    A win would have clinched a third J1 crown in four seasons for Toru Oniki's men, who won back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018. They could still claim the silverware this round if Gamba Osaka, the only remaining challengers for the title, lose or draw against Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium on Sunday.

    The home side started the match on the front foot, with Kawasaki keeper Jung Sung Ryong called into action early to stop shots from Nomura and Kohei Isa.

    The South Korean keeper kept his team on level terms in the 24th minute when he parried a close-range shot from Nomura over the bar.

    After a long ball from Yamato Machida looked set to put Nomura through on goal, center-back Taniguchi yanked the attacking midfielder down from behind.

    Jung guessed the right direction on the penalty kick but could not stop Nomura finding the bottom right corner.

    "I've been practicing (penalties), so I took it with confidence," Nomura said. "We didn't want to see them winning the title right in front of us, so we were determined not to lose."

    Despite the man disadvantage, Kawasaki pushed forward following the introduction of talented youngsters Ao Tanaka and Kaoru Mitoma to start the second half.

    The visitors nearly equalized in the 51st minute when attacking talisman Yu Kobayashi headed into the side netting off a corner kick.

    "(Oita) were holding onto the ball in the first half and we weren't patient enough defensively," Oniki said. "The players did a great job, but I needed to do better as a manager."

    Victory over Oita would have given Kawasaki the title with five rounds to spare, a faster pace than any champion since the J1 adopted a 34-game format in 2005.

    All that remains to be decided is when Frontale receive the trophy, with Gamba facing the virtually impossible task of closing a 17-point gap in their final six games.

    In other J1 results, Nagoya Grampus provisionally climbed past Gamba into second place following a 3-1 win over Shonan Bellmare at Toyota Stadium. With only four games left on their slate, Grampus can finish no higher than second.

    At Sapporo Dome, Anderson Lopes bagged a pair of goals before halftime as Consadole Sapporo thrashed Shimizu S-Pulse 5-1.

    Kashima Antlers climbed to fourth in the standings with a 3-1 win on the road against bottom side Vegalta Sendai, while Cerezo Osaka dropped to sixth following a 1-0 loss to visiting Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

    Sagan Tosu extended their unbeaten run to seven with a 2-1 win away to Kashiwa Reysol.

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