Urawa Reds' Japan midfielder Naoki Yamada failed to impress Olympic team coach Takashi Sekizuka as the former Asian champions went down 3-2 at the hands of Ventforet Kofu on Saturday.
Yamada, finally returning to form after a long battle with an assortment of injuries, was benched after the first half in Kofu's rent-a-home at Tokyo's National Stadium.
Paulinho tormented Reds with two goals in the first half and set up a free header for Mike Havenaar, who now has 10 goals this season.
Urawa had won four of their last six to rise to 12th in the table but dragged themselves down yet again with a lackluster performance against relegation-threatened Kofu.
Apart from Yosuke Kashiwagi's free kick in the 23rd minute that went in off the wall, and Sergio Escudero's beauty of a goal in the 83rd, Reds had few moments to remember over the course of 90 minutes.
Zeljko Petrovic's side are only seven points off the relegation zone.
"I'd like to congratulate Kofu on a well-deserved victory because we turned in one, incredibly poor performance," Petrovic said. "Our back line was particularly bad and I think Kashiwagi was about the only player who made the grade tonight.
"To play the game we did in front of a big crowd is just embarrassing. Just because we're Urawa Reds doesn't mean we're going to play well automatically. We have to start working for it," he said.
Paulinho bagged his first after 13 minutes, capitalizing on a defensive mix-up between Matthew Spiranovic and Shunki Takahashi to rifle the ball into the roof of the net.
Ventforet went up 2-0 six minutes later, again taking full advantage of the Urawa defense who were left watching as Havenaar went airborne to nod past keeper Nobuhiro Kato.
Reds were fortunate to pull within one through Kashiwagi's free kick that wrong-footed goalkeeper Hiroki Aratani, but Paulinho reestablished Kofu's two-goal advantage after racing past Takahashi for his seventh strike this year.
The mood brightened slightly for the ever-singing Reds fans as Escudero opened his 2011 account, but Ventforet held on to move within four points of safety after 15th-placed Omiya Ardija drew 1-1 at home to Montedio Yamagata.
"These three points will go a long way," Paulinho said. "But we have to keep winning so we can stay up."
Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka unseated champions Nagoya Grampus at the top of the table after smashing Kawasaki Frontale 6-3 at home behind a second-half Rafinha hat-trick.
Gamba improved to 44 points from 22 games, moving into first on goal difference ahead of Kashiwa Reysol who edged last-place Avispa Fukuoka 3-2 at home.
Grampus -- whose unbeaten run ended at 16 games, one short of the J1 record -- trail the two front-runners by a point after being stunned 1-0 by Vegalta Sendai in Nagoya.
Kashima Antlers continued their annual second-half surge with a 2-0 home win against Sanfrecce Hiroshima as Oswaldo Oliveira's side closed within 10 points of the lead.
At Nissan Stadium, Yokohama F Marinos beat Jubilo Iwata 1-0 to stay right behind Grampus on goal difference while Vissel Kobe moved further clear of the drop zone with a 2-1 home win over Albirex Niigata, climbing into eighth.
S-Pulse shared the points in a 3-3 draw with Cerezo Osaka in Shimizu.