Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima's frustrating season hit a new low as they surrendered a three-goal lead to slip to a 3-3 draw at Omiya Ardija on Saturday. Urawa Reds kept their noses in front at the top of the Japanese J.League with a 1-0 home victory over Albirex Niigata, courtesy of a Ken Matsubara own goal.
But the real drama was just down the road in rainswept Saitama, north of Tokyo, as the J.League served up its first full programme of matches after a two-month break for the FIFA World Cup™. Languishing in seventh after a midweek defeat by Yokohama F-Marinos, Hiroshima's hopes of a third straight J.League title suffered a further blow after a second-half blitz by Omiya's 'Squirrels'.
Nicknamed after the furry rodents, the home side lacked any bite early on as two poacher's goals from Japan striker Hisato Sato and a sharp finish from Naoki Ishihara gave Hiroshima a 3-0 halftime lead. Things changed suddenly after the break when Slovenia striker Zlatan Ljubijankic smashed the ball in off the post with a finish his Swedish namesake would have been proud of. Former Red Star Belgrade forward Dragan Mrda then came off from the bench to score twice, capping a dream debut with a superb shot from the edge of the box after 71 minutes.
Former Asian champions Urawa have 32 points from 15 matches, one more than this season's surprise package Sagan Tosu, who squeaked a 1-0 win at Vissel Kobe to keep pace. Hiroshima now lie nine points adrift of the leaders, having won just six of their 15 games.
Japan striker Yoshito Okubo scored for the second time in five days as Kawasaki Frontale won 2-0 at Shimizu S-Pulse, away fans presenting him with a pineapple for this efforts after the game. Frontale sit in third place on 27 points.
Gamba Osaka climbed to 13th after a 2-0 home win over Venforet Kofu, sparked by a cute curler from striker Takashi Usami, who had a brief loan spell at Bayern Munich from 2011 to 2012. Gamba's cross-city rivals Cerezo Osaka were held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Yokohama, while Kashima Antlers also snatched a late equaliser to peg back FC Tokyo 1-1 in the capital.