NAGOYA – Nagoya Grampus held onto top spot in the J. League with a 1-1 draw against Urawa Reds on Sunday, while a 2-0 win over Shimizu S-Pulse provided Kashima Antlers with a perfect tonic for their Asian Champions League blues in midweek.
Goals from Takeshi Aoki and Marquinhos got Kashima’s domestic campaign back up and running and kept it in the thick of an absorbing title race, while Grampus had Yuki Maki to thank for a fine equalizer at Mizuho Stadium.
With only four points separating the top six teams, Nagoya leads the standings with 49 points with seven games left, one ahead of Oita Trinita and three ahead of Kashima and Urawa, who both have a game in hand.
Kashima came into its match still bearing the scars of a 1-0 defeat to Adelaide United that eliminated it from Asia’s premier club competition 2-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
And to make matters worse, rivals Urawa and Gamba Osaka both rubbed salt in Kashima’s wounds by winning their ties and setting up an ACL showdown in the last four.
But Aoki put Antlers back on the road to winning ways when he hammered home the opener on 21 minutes, and Marquinhos completed victory with his 18th goal of the season shortly before halftime at Kashima Stadium.
“We have had a grueling schedule that must be surely taking its toll on the players, but they gave an absolutely fantastic performance,” said Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira.
Defender Atsuto Uchida added, “It was physically very tough but everyone was so torn up about the ACL. I never felt like we would concede today.”
At Mizuho Stadium, Edmilson stooped to head in Takahito Soma’s cross and give Reds the lead four minutes before the break, but Maki did a fine impersonation of his elder brother, Japan and JEF United Chiba striker Seiichiro, when he leveled with a towering header for his first-ever league goal early in the second half.
“Finally it was 1-1 against the Asian champions and that’s not bad,” said Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic.
“I am very satisfied with our performance today. We played good football, very modern football. We created a lot of chances and I think that our supporters can be very satisfied with our presentation today.”
At the other end of the table, Shingo Akamine headed his 11th of the campaign and Yohei Otake snatched the winner just after coming off the bench as FC Tokyo hammered another nail in Consadole Sapporo’s coffin with a come-from-behind 2-1 win in Hokkaido.
Tokyo Verdy was beaten 3-1 at home to Gamba Osaka, Tomokazu Myojin, Yasuhito Endo and Hayato Sasaki scoring for the visitor, while fellow struggler Jubilo Iwata edged 10-man Albirex Niigata 1-0, Ryoichi Maeda’s 23rd-minute penalty giving the team its first win under recently appointed manager Hans Ooft.