KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Kashima Antlers opened up a seven-point lead at the top of the J. League with a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata on Saturday.
Antlers went ahead through a 39th-minute Shinzo Koroki goal in the first round of play since the international break, and held on to grind out their sixth league win in a row and 11th undefeated.
Albirex Niigata beat Gamba Osaka 2-0 to leapfrog Urawa Reds into second on goal difference, although Reds have the chance to redress the balance against Yokohama F. Marinos on Sunday.
Antlers looked efficient if seldom entertaining at Kashima Stadium, but manager Oswaldo Oliveira expected as much after being out of league action since May 24.
“You have to look at the overall picture,” he said. “If you suddenly don’t have a game for about 25 days, you can’t expect to come back at the same pace. Of course we tried to do that as much as possible, but I didn’t expect to come back in top form.
“When teams come here they are worried about losing goals, so they play defensively. They don’t take risks in attack, and that makes it difficult for us.”
Jubilo’s chances of success were hit by star striker Lee Keun Ho’s sudden transfer to Paris St. Germain in the days leading up to the game. The South Korean almost single-handedly transformed Jubilo from relegation certainties into a dangerous attacking unit in his eight games since joining early in the season, and manager Masaaki Yanagishita admitted his loss will be a heavy blow.
“Lee made the team very positive in going for goal and with his finishing,” he said.
“He communicated that to the other players, but he wasn’t there in the beginning and now we have to keep going for goal with that same spirit.”
Antlers dominated the early stages, but it was Jubilo that had the best chance to open the scoring when Gilsinho found himself in space in the 13th minute.
The diminutive Brazilian was unable to get his head to the cross that came his way, but Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata still had to mop up the danger as Gilsinho made a stab at the loose ball on the floor.
Mitsuo Ogasawara lashed a free kick over the crossbar as Antlers continued to press, before Park Joo Ho stung Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi’s fingers with a vicious shot on the run.
But just as Jubilo looked like gaining a foothold, Kashima took the lead. Ogasawara started the attack with a sweeping ball to the left to Marquinhos, and Takuya Nozawa took the ball to the line before delivering a low, hard cross for Koroki to turn in at the back post.
Poor defending at a corner almost let in Kentaro Oi as Antlers struggled to build on their lead in the second half. But Jubilo was limited to half-chances as Kashima held firm, and teenage substitute Yuya Osako wasted a glorious chance to double the home side’s lead when he cannoned a shot over the bar with five minutes to go.
In the day’s other games, Masaki Fukai gave JEF United a late 1-0 win over Nagoya Grampus at Mizuho Stadium, while Oita Trinita slumped to their 11th straight loss with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Kawasaki Frontale.
Elsewhere, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Montedio Yamagata 4-1. The winners got goals from Kazuki Hara, Frode Johnsen and Japan striker Shinji Okazaki.
Taishi Tsukamoto notched a free kick in the 72nd minute to lead Omiya Ardija defeated to a 2-1 victory over Kyoto Sanga 2-1.
FC Tokyo topped Kashima Reysol 3-0, with Sota Hirayama, Cabore and Naohiro Ishikawa scoring goals for the victors.