TOKYO, Aug 13 (Reuters) - The chasing pack closed the gap on faltering leaders Kashima Antlers in the J.League's second stage championship on Saturday night.
Antlers were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Avispa Fukuoka, giving them only two points from the last possible nine since winning their opening six games of the stage.
Olympic team hopefuls Masashi Motoyama and Tomoyuki Hirase combined for Kashima's goal after 26 minutes, with Hirase heading home his 11th of the season from a right-wing cross from Motoyama.
Early in the second half, Avispa equalised with a header from Tatsunori Hisanaga, and the game stayed 1-1 throughout the 30 minutes of sudden-death extra time.
The point moved Antlers on to 20 from nine games where they were joined by Gamba Osaka, who beat Kyoto Purple Sanga 3-0 with two goals from Croatian striker Nino Bule and a third from national team midfielder Junichi Inamoto.
Antlers stayed top because of a better goal difference, 13 compared to eight for Gamba. Defending champions Jubilo Iwata crushed first-stage champions Yokohama F Marinos 4-0 with two goals each for strikers Masashi Nakayama and Naohiro Takahara.
Nakayama, who last month became only the second player in the eight-year history of the professional J.League to score a century of goals, took his career total to 104 with two close-range efforts in the first half. Jubilo stayed third on
Kashiwa Reysol are fourth on 17 after beating Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 with a late header from Hideaki Kitajima, taking him to the top of the scoring charts with 15 goals, and Nagoya Grampus Eight demolished FC Tokyo 4-1 to go fifth on 16 points.
Yugoslav veteran Dragan Stojkovic was in inspired form for Grampus, playing a part in all four goals, two of them by new Brazilian forward Ueslei.
The winners of the second stage will meet Yokohama over two legs for the overall title in December. The points from both stages are combined to determine the two teams relegated to division two.
After 24 of the 30 games, Kawasaki Frontale are 16th on 17 points, two points adrift of Kyoto Purple Sanga. JEF United Ichihara occupy the safe 14th spot on 23, and Vissel Kobe appear to be out of trouble on 28 after beating JEF 2-1 with two headers from Koji Yoshimura.
JEF have replaced Romanian manager Nicolae Zamfir, who resigned last week, with the former Slovenia national coach, Zdenko Verdenik.