Emerson's goal not enough for Consadole (J2)

By Jeremy Walker

  TOKYO (July 16)--The top-of-the-table clash in Japan's second division on Sunday ended with honours even in a 1-1 draw between Consadole Sapporo and Urawa Reds. But neither side seemed particularly worried about not winning, because the draw enabled them both to extend their lead over the third-place team in the race for the two promotion places.

  Playing in front of 10,146 fans at the Muroran Irie Stadium near Sapporo, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, the home side took the lead after only 11 minutes with a goal from Brazilian teenager Emerson. The 18-year-old striker has set the second division (J2) alight since joining Consadole from Sao Paulo FC for the start of the season. He has now scored 21 goals in 19 league appearances, over half his team's 21-game total of 40.

  Reds, Japan's best-supported club and generously financed by Mitsubishi Motors, equalised after 54 minutes through Polish substitute Andrejz Kubica, his fifth in 17 games since moving to Japan from Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv. The score remained 1-1 at 90 minutes, and a further 30 minutes of "golden goal" extra time failed to separate the teams, giving them a point apiece.

  After 21 of the 40 games, Consadole lead the way with 53 points, seven clear of second-placed Urawa, who are looking for an immediate return to J1 after last season's relegation on the final day of the season. Consadole are favourites for the J2 championship, however, testimony to the coaching skills of Japan's World Cup boss in France, Takeshi Okada.

  Oita Trinita, who missed out on promotion on the last day of last season, are a distant third on 38 points, two ahead of Urawa Reds' Saitama rivals Omiya Ardija in fourth place. At the bottom of the 11-team table, Ventforet Kofu--the home prefecture of AS Roma's Hidetoshi Nakata--are stranded on four points, 11 behind 10th-placed Montedio Yamagata. But there is no relegation from J2, easing the pressure on the strugglers but lessening the tension and excitement for the fans. The Consadole-Urawa game was the only one scheduled in J2 on Sunday.