J. League Preview: Misfiring Yokohama aim to clinch title
Yokohama F Marinos can seal the J. League title with a win over Albirex Niigata on Saturday, while Urawa visit Sagan Tosu.
Yasuhiro Higuchi's Yokohama side are four points clear at the top with two matches remaining and only two surprise losses could stop them from claiming their first title since 2004, while it will also be a significant milestone in veteran midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura's career.
Nakamura has never won a J. League title in nine previous seasons and the 35-year-old is aiming for his the fourth league championship of his career after claiming three with Celtic in the Scottish Premier League.
As nearest rivals Urawa and Sanfrecce Hiroshima suffered losses last time out, Yokohama took their chance to move clear.
Yuji Nakazawa's goal was enough to overcome lowly Jubilo Iwata 1-0 but goals have still largely been a problem in recent matches.
Brazilian Marquinhos (16 league goals) is without a league goal since August and his side have scored just four in their past six J.League matches.
Yokohama last scored more than once in a league match when Marquinhos last netted – in a 3-0 win over Urawa on August 28.
But their defensive record of conceded 28 in 32 league matches – the equal best – holds them in good stead ahead of their last two outings.
Urawa will be eyeing a victory at 13th-placed Sagan Tosu to keep the pressure on the league leaders should they slip up.
On the back of three straight wins, Sagan Tosu have moved well clear of the relegation zone and could trouble the Reds.
Third-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima are likely to find life easier when they host Shonan Bellmare, whose relegation has been confirmed.
The battle for the AFC Champions League places – awarded to the top three – continues with Cerezo Osaka and Kashima Antlers within touching distance.
The two teams face each other on Saturday and a loss for either would be a huge blow to their chances.
Elsewhere, Kawasaki Frontale travel to bottom side Oita Trinita, Tokyo visit Kashiwa Reysol and Shimizu S-Pulse take on Vegalta Sendai.
Nagoya Grampus host Ventforet Kofu and Omiya Ardija will be looking for their first league win since August when they welcome Jubilo Iwata to the NACK5 Stadium.