KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Kawasaki Frontale were left stunned on Saturday after referee Masayoshi Okada called off their top-of-the-table-clash at leaders Kashima Antlers, with Frontale 3-1 in front with 15 minutes left.
Kawasaki looked set to breathe life into the title race and slash Antlers’ lead to four points after Chong Tese’s first-half double put Frontale in control, and Juninho grabbed the third in the 66th minute in torrential rain at Kashima Stadium.
But with monsoon-like conditions gradually turning the pitch into a swamp in the second half, Okada halted play and ordered both teams off the pitch before eventually deeming the surface was unplayable.
The decision was met with huge cheers from home supporters and protests from Kawasaki players believing the last quarter of an hour should be played.
The full 90 minutes will be replayed although the new date was not immediately available.
Kashima has 50 points and Nabisco Cup finalists Frontale have 43. Shimizu S-Pulse (43) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (43) both won to keep alive their slim title hopes.
Gamba Osaka overcame Vissel Kobe 3-2 at home thanks to a brace from Takahiro Futagawa, and sit another point off the pace.
Kawasaki drew first blood on 20 minutes when Kengo Nakamura won possession and fed Chong to send a fabulous strike past Hitoshi Sogahata, and the visitors then nearly caught the Kashima goalkeeper napping to double their lead.
Danilo, already on a yellow card, was lucky to stay on the pitch after a dreadful challenge on Chong, and Nakamura had Sogahata scampering across his goal line to keep out the ensuing free kick.
Wearing a protective “Zorro” style mask for facial injuries sustained in a 3-1 defeat away to Omiya Ardija last month, Marquinhos headed Kashima level from Takuya Nozawa’s cross just past the half-hour mark, but Chong was on hand to quickly put the visitors back in front.
Nakamura was again the provider, swinging in a corner that took a touch off Toru Araiba before Chong sent it over the line. Renatinho should have made it 3-1 in injury time but scuffed his shot after being given the ball on a plate by Juninho.
Sogahata did well to deal with a Juninho shot early in the second half but after Shinzo Koroki twice went close at the other end, the Kashima keeper was left red-faced when he allowed Juninho’s shot to creep in at his near post.
On a day when top-flight action resumed after a two-week international break, Shimizu rebounded from last week’s Nabisco Cup semifinal exit with a 1-0 win over Omiya.
Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen pounced on a loose ball to bury what proved to be the winner after five minutes.
“This was an important test to see if we could get back up and running after losing in the Nabisco Cup to FC Tokyo,” said S-Pulse manager Kenta Hasegawa.
“Today we were playing against an Omiya side that were coming off a win over Kashima but my players really stayed fully focused for 90 minutes. It was all about getting the points today. The players understood that and responded,” he said.
Yosuke Kashiwagi scored twice as Sanfrecce beat Yokohama F. Marinos 3-2 at Big Arch.
Naohiro Ishikawa scored his 12th goal of the season but FC Tokyo suffered a 2-1 reverse away to Kyoto Sanga.
Kisho Yano headed in Toshihiro Matsushita’s free kick as Albirex Niigata registered their first win in nine matches by edging JEF United Chiba 1-0, but Chiba’s rivals Kashiwa Reysol secured a precious 3-2 win away to Nagoya Grampus.