Michael Olunga’s hopes of featuring in Asian Champions League next season went up in smoke after Kashiwa Reysol lost 1-0 to Nagoya Grampus at Sankyo Stadium on Saturday.
J1 League’s leading scorer Olunga, who was directly involved in scoring in the last six matches (five goals and three assists), lost several decent chances as Kashiwa fell to a second half goal from Yuki Soma.
The match began with a minute of silence to honour departed football great Diego Maradona.
The first half was fiercely contested, with Nagoya dominating possession as Kashiwa had a large chunk of goal scoring opportunities. Kashiwa ended up ruing those missed chances after Nagoya came back strongly in the second half.
The first opportunity fell to Kenyan international forward Olunga in the early stages of the game but he missed the target after shooting with his right foot from a Kengo Kitazume pass.
Brazilian attacking midfielder Cristiano was the next culprit after a hitting a short pass that did not reach Olunga following a steal from forward Yusuke Segawa.
Olunga, who has found the back of the net 26 times in the 18-team league this season, got another chance but his shot went straight to the keeper. Kashiwa continued to pile pressure and almost went ahead in the 19th minute through Cristiano. His fierce shot was however cut out.
Moments later, Mateus forced Kashiwa goalkeeper Kim Seung-yu into a great save. Another chance from Olunga went begging moments after Nagoya’s Gabriel Xavier unleashed a dangerous long shot.
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Olunga then shot wide from a Masatoshi Mihara cross minutes after Richardson had stopped a Nagoya counterattack.
Visitors Nagoya started the second half brightly and looked the hungrier of the two sides. A defensive lapse saw Nagoya take the lead in the 51st minute.
Kashiwa made all five substitutions bringing on Shunki Takahashi for Kitazume in 65th minute, Hiroto Goya and Yuta Kamiya for Cristiano and Ataru Esaka later on in an attempt rejuvenate the side.
After this encounter, Kashiwa remain eighth with 47 points from 30 games. Nagoya climb to second place with 59 points from 32 matches. Gamba is also on 59, but has played one match less.
Kashiwa now need a miracle to finish in the top-three bracket to qualify for the lucrative Champions League. They can only reach the 59-point mark if they beat 11th-placed Oita Trinita on December 9, Cerezo Osaka (December 11), Sanfrecce Hiroshima (December 16) and champions Kawasaki Frontale on December 19.
As it stands, the race to clinch remaining two Champions League places from J1 League is now down to Nagoya and Gamba as well as Cerezo (58 points), Kashima Antlers (55) and FC Tokyo (51).
In other matches held on Saturday, Cerezo hit Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 3-1 while Shimizu S-Pulse drew 2-2 against Kawasaki.