KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Takuya Nozawa hit a brace as Kashima Antlers returned to winning ways with a routine 3-0 victory over Vissel Kobe in the J. League on Saturday.
Nozawa’s sixth and seventh goals of the season put Kashima in control at the break and Marquinhos sealed victory 16 minutes from time to nudge the champions two points clear at the top of the table approaching the midway point of the campaign.
Kashima has 34 points from 16 games, two clear of Nagoya Grampus, who beat Yokohama F. Marinos 2-0 away thanks to goals from league-leading scorer Josh Kennedy and Danilson. But former Asian club champions Urawa Reds (23) fell further adrift after a shock 1-0 defeat at home to unfashionable Omiya Ardija in the Saitama derby.
Rafael was Omiya’s hero, the lanky Brazilian striker pouncing to lash home what turned out to be the winner on 28 minutes after Urawa had failed to clear its lines following Norio Suzuki’s free kick.
Omiya spent the remainder of the game soaking up wave after wave of Reds pressure, but the Squirrels defended valiantly to take the points and register only their third win of the season.
“Derby matches are always special and it was nice to play a big part today but I would not have been able to do it without the help of my teammates,” said Rafael. “Hopefully this will be a turning point for us and we can use this result as a platform to build on.”
Kashima, which saw its four-match winning streak come to a halt after being held to a 2-2 draw at home to Albirex Niigata on Tuesday, needed only eight minutes to go in front, Nozawa climbing to head Fellype Gabriel’s ball past Tatsuya Enomoto.
Kobe offered little in the way of a response and Nozawa doubled Kashima’s lead on 32 minutes when he collected Mitsuo Ogasawara’s corner from the edge of the box and rattled in off the crossbar.
Hiroto Mogi drew a fine save out of Hitoshi Sogahata as Kobe attempted to haul itself back into the game, only for Marquinhos to make the points safe with his sixth of the season moments later.
“Three points at home are a must so I’m glad we could win,” said Nozawa. “We just have to make sure we keep picking up victories.”
Elsewhere, Cerezo Osaka cruised to a 3-0 win at Jubilo Iwata and moved into fourth spot courtesy of goals from Daisuke Takahashi, Takashi Inui and Adriano, while Kisho Yano and Isao Homma were on target to lift fifth-place Albirex Niigata to a 2-1 win against FC Tokyo at Big Swan and extend their unbeaten streak to 10 matches.