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Resolving Antlers-Frontale match fairly presented tough dilemma

by Andrew Mckirdy

Faced with a minefield in the aftermath of last weekend’s abandoned top-of-the-table clash between Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale, the J. League deserves credit for guiding a sure-footed path toward steadier ground.

Referee Masayoshi Okada halted Saturday’s match with second-place Frontale leading first-place Antlers 3-1 with only 15 minutes left to go as rain turned the pitch at Kashima Stadium into a marsh, then ruled that play could not continue after inspecting the surface further.

That the biggest game of the season ended in such chaos was nothing short of staggering. A win for Frontale would have cut Antlers’ lead at the top of the table down to four points, and new life would have been breathed into a championship that had long seemed bound for Kashima.

Instead, the J. League was left with one almighty problem on its hands.

League regulations state that abandoned games must be replayed over 90 minutes with the score reverting to 0-0, but with Frontale understandably nonplussed at the prospect of starting from scratch, a meeting was called for Tuesday to hammer out a solution.

The alternatives, however, were hardly palatable.

Writing the game off as a 3-1 win for Frontale posed the obvious dilemma that Kashima could — regardless of probability — have come back to take something from the match were it to have reached its full, soggy conclusion.

Restarting for the time remaining with the score as it stood was another suggestion, but the practicalities of staging a 15-minute match — catering for fans, providing security, paying costs — brought problems of their own.

In the end, however, it was the latter option the J. League went for. In sporting terms, it was the right decision.

It would have been easy to award Frontale the win, thereby averting a nasty fixture logjam with the Kanagawa club still involved in both the Asian Champions League and the Nabisco Cup.

Ordering a complete rematch would also have been a soft option, and if the J. League had pointed to the rule book and shrugged its shoulders it could have conveniently washed its hands of the affair.

But instead it has been both brave and flexible. By understanding the importance of the match and deviating from rigid conventions, the men in charge have made the best of a bad and very unfortunate situation.

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Coaching carousel: Zico lands on his feet again.

Crashing out at CSKA Moscow after just eight months on the job, the former Japan manager has bagged himself another plum role thanks to a man who lasted even less time in the hot seat.

Olympiakos fired manager Temuri Ketsbaia just two games into the Greek season, with the shame of a 5-0 friendly defeat to Erogtelis seemingly too painful for the champion’s hierarchy to bear.

Now Zico inherits a team that is by far the richest and most popular in the country, and one that also made a successful start to its Champions League campaign against AZ Alkmaar on Wednesday.

The jury is still out on Zico’s management skills in Europe, but the offers keep coming in nevertheless. One thing is certain though — he can’t do any worse than Ketsbaia.

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Long skid ends: Urawa Reds finally snapped a run of seven straight defeats by beating Montedio Yamagata 4-1 last weekend, but manager Volker Finke believes it is too late to salvage anything from the season.

The win sent Urawa into seventh place with nine games left to play — just six points away from third place and the Asian Champions League berth that comes with it.

Finke’s priorities, however, lie further in the future.

When asked his target for the rest of the season, the German simply replied: “To build a nice team for next season.”

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Quotable: “We had a lot of chances where it looked like one more pass might do it, but the players threw it away by shooting too much. They were too hesitant. Now I have to take a close look at my players for the remaining games. They hold back — they have to give more.”

— After starting the club’s first-ever season in J1 with a 6-2 win over Jubilo Iwata, Montedio Yamagata manager Shinji Kobayashi faces up to reality in the wake of his side’s 4-1 loss to Urawa Reds.