Albirex Niigata missed the chance to close in on J.League leaders Kashima Antlers by losing 1-0 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse today. The game's only goal came from Masaki Yamamoto's direct free-kick after forward Shinji Okazaki was brought down just outside the area in the 52nd minute.
"I'm really happy because it was the first time I scored a goal from a free-kick. Furthermore, we won with this goal. It feels great. We also fended off their attacks really well," said a jubilant Yamamoto.
Niigata stayed third on 22 points, four behind holders Kashima, who will take on Asian champions Gamba Osaka tomorrow. Urawa Red Diamonds are two points off the pace in second.
"We couldn't break through the tight Shimizu defence," said Niigata coach Jun Suzuki. "It was very close in the first half. Both sides had scoring chances.
"But conceded a goal from a set-piece and it became an uphill battle. I don't think my players were inattentive after winning two games in a row, although we had several players who have fitness problems, but we didn't have any problems mentally."
Success for Sanfreece, Vissel
Elsewhere, forward Hisato Sato scored the only goal of the game, following a pinpoint cross by Koji Nakajima shortly before the break, to earn Sanfrecce Hiroshima victory and hand Oita Trinita their tenth straight defeat.
Vissel Kobe beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1, while Yokohama Marinos scored an equaliser with two minutes left to draw 1-1 with JEF United. Montedio Yamagata and Kyoto Purple Sanga played a goalless draw.
The J.League will be halted after Sunday's games due to Japan's forthcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers. It will resume on 20 June.