Mistake-aided Kashima salvage draw in first-leg

by Andrew Mckirdy

KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Kashima Antlers salvaged a draw but gifted a careless away goal to Adelaide United as their Asian Champions League quarterfinal first leg finished 1-1 on Wednesday night.

Travis Dodd gave the Australians the lead against the run of play as Kashima’s defense failed to deal with a straightforward ball into the box in the 38th minute, but a slapstick own-goal from Robert Cornthwaite, who turned a harmless Atsuto Uchida cross into his own net, leveled the match for Kashima on the stroke of halftime.

Antlers showed by far the greater attacking verve on a terrible, pockmarked playing surface at Kashima Stadium, but the Japanese side will travel to Adelaide for the return leg next week knowing a scoreless draw will send it crashing out of the competition.

Adelaide manager Aurelio Vidmar was satisfied with the result, but is not taking his side’s passage to the final four for granted just yet.

“It is a very good result tonight, but the game is over two legs so we know there is a lot of hard work to do next week,” he said.

“It is never easy away from home, but when it is backs to the wall they really lift. That is how it was tonight. What was an important factor is that the team defended collectively as a unit.

“Now we have the opportunity to take the next step, but we can’t get ahead of ourselves. Football has a way of smacking you in the face when you least expect it.”

Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira also insisted the tie was far from over.

“When you consider the strength of our opponents, this is not such a strange result,” he said. “We will go to Adelaide and try to get the result we need to go through.”

Antlers captain Mitsuo Ogasawara almost gave the home side an early lead when he whipped in a dangerous free kick in the eighth minute, forcing a diving save from Adelaide’s Eugen Galekovic.

And with the grass on the pitch as sparse as the crowd in the stands, Kashima decided the safest way to avoid unexpected mishaps was to test the goalkeeper with more shots from distance. Marquinhos and Danilo both tried their luck, but neither could draw first blood in a cagey start to the match.

Antlers soon settled into an attacking rhythm, with frontrunners Marquinhos and Shinzo Koroki stretching the Australian defense with their clever darting runs. Kashima’s movement in the box was poor, however, and several tantalizing crosses went begging with no one to apply the finishing touch.

Uchida drew a smart save out of Galekovic with Adelaide protesting that Antlers had not put the ball out of play with midfielder Diego lying prone on the ground, but there was little the visitors could do to stop Kashima’s growing momentum.

Or so the home side thought. Taking advantage of Kashima’s profligacy in front of goal, Dodd ghosted into the Kashima box to get his head onto a cross that should have been a routine clearance to give Adelaide an unlikely lead.

Marquinhos headed onto the roof of the net as Antlers failed to come up with an immediate reply.

But with the last kick of the half, Uchida sent in a low cross that seemed so innocent that Marquinhos, realizing he would not reach it, stopped his run almost as soon as the ball had left the full-back’s boot. The hapless Cornthwaite, however, unaware that the threat had passed, jabbed out a leg to send the ball trickling past a disbelieving Galekovic.

Substitute Koji Nakata had a chance to edge Antlers in front after a swift attacking move early in the second half, but a Cristiano close-range header that ‘keeper Hitoshi Sogahata turned round the post showed the Australians still had attacking ambitions of their own.

Koroki set off on a slaloming run as Kashima upped the ante, before Paul Reid spurned a glorious chance for the visitors at the other end.

Daiki Iwamasa and Koroki had further chances with Antlers streaming forward in search of a winning goal, but Adelaide defended solidly enough to ease toward full-time without sustaining further damage.

Kashima failed to seriously trouble Galekovic with one final push into injury time, but Oliveira’s men will have to find their scoring boots if they are to progress to the final four in a week’s time.