Brazilian striker Bruno Mendes headed in the second-half winner as Cerezo Osaka beat Yokohama FC 1-0 on Sunday in the J-League first division, earning three crucial points in their hunt for a top-three finish.
In a tense yet lively encounter at Yanmar Stadium, Cerezo upped the tempo following the interval and Bruno Mendes netted the winner in the 61st minute after the hosts took a short corner and Eiichi Katayama delivered an accurate cross from the left.
Cerezo, currently fifth, moved a point behind third-placed Nagoya Grampus with a game in hand. The teams finishing second and third will enter the playoffs for next year's Asian Champions League, while the runners-up to newly crowned J1 winners Kawasaki Frontale will join them in this season's modified Emperor's Cup.
Both Cerezo's Hiroaki Okuno and Yokohama FC's Kazunari Ichimi had long-distance efforts saved before the latter almost snatched the opener in the 28th minute. A free kick by Kohei Tezuka deflected off striker Ichimi only to see Cerezo keeper Kim Jin Hyeon denying him with a dive.
The hosts missed chances in quick succession after the break as Matej Jonjic headed straight at opposing keeper Yuji Rokutan in the 49th minute and Bruno Mendes saw his close-range header also scraped off the line by the keeper three minutes later.
But Bruno Mendes' glancing header found the net just past the hour to spark a wild celebration from Spanish manager Miguel Angel Lotina, who will end his two-year Osaka tenure at season's end, and Cerezo held firm against the visitors' late onslaught.
Elsewhere in the top flight, Ayase Ueda had a brace as Kashima Antlers thrashed Urawa Reds 4-0 at home. Cerezo trail Antlers on goal difference but have two games in hand.
Shimizu S-Pulse came from behind to draw 1-1 at home to Shonan Bellmare.