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Nagoya’s top-three hopes dented by draw at struggling Sendai


Nagoya Grampus’ top-three aspirations suffered a blow in the J. League first division on Sunday as the new Levain Cup winner were held to a 1-1 draw away against relegation-threatened Vegalta Sendai.

A week after winning their first major title since 2010, Grampus made a perfect start when Yoichiro Kakitani scored after 14 minutes at Yurtec Stadium, only for Vegalta’s Takuma Nishimura to level two minutes after the break to share the spoils.

Grampus fell five points behind third-place Vissel Kobe and was overtaken by Kashima Antlers for the fourth spot on goal difference. The league’s top three teams earn automatic qualification into next season’s Asian Champions League.

At the other end of the table, Sendai is six points adrift of safety with three games to go. They are on 27 points and sit 19th out of 20 clubs, with the bottom four sides all going down this season.

Nagoya took the lead following a good improvization from Naoki Maeda, who received a low cross from Yuki Soma from the left before rolling it back for Kakitani to slide home.

Vegalta offered little going forward until the break, but former CSKA Moscow forward Nishimura drilled home a sublime effort from outside the box to restore parity following a layoff from Cayman Togashi.

“I haven’t been starting many games, and there has also been frustration from the team not winning, so I was fired up more than usual,” said Nishimura. “There was that space behind the forward from the first half, and I took my shot well.”

Nagoya substitute Jakub Swierczok tested Polish compatriot Jakub Slowik in the Vegalta goal in the 68th minute from inside the box, before the keeper made a diving save to deny a low Maeda effort that curled toward the bottom corner.

Maeda was again thwarted by the Pole in the 87th minute.

Elsewhere, Shoma Doi’s strike handed Kashima a 1-0 home win over Urawa Reds, who entered the game level on points with Kashima.

After securing the J1 title on Wednesday, Kawasaki Frontale suffered their second defeat of the season, 3-1 away to Sagan Tosu.

Brazilian forward Patric’s hat trick lifted Gamba Osaka 3-2 away to Oita Trinita, who are 18th and a point above Vegalta.

A late own goal saw a vital win slip through the fingers for bottom side Yokohama FC, who draw 1-1 at Avispa Fukuoka and remain 20th, level on points with Sendai.

Shonan Bellmare played out a goalless draw with Sanfrecce Hiroshima and are three points clear of the relegation zone.

Kashiwa Reysol claimed a 1-0 win over beaten Levain Cup finalist Cerezo Osaka.

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