KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — A hat trick from Marquinhos gave Kashima Antlers a no-nonsense 3-0 win over Omiya Ardija on Saturday and trimmed Nagoya Grampus’ cushion at the top of the J. League to five points.
The Brazilian gave Antlers a two-goal halftime lead at Kashima Stadium before grabbing his third in the 58th minute, taking advantage of Nagoya’s 1-1 draw at home to Yokohama F. Marinos earlier in the afternoon.
Kashima is chasing an unprecedented fourth straight title despite beginning the day seven points off the pace, and manager Oswaldo Oliveira is in no mood to give up the ghost with a third of the season still to play.
“We have to reduce this deficit,” he said. “We can’t accept anything less than victories. We have to win games and we have only 11 matches ahead, so we have to win and wait for our opponents to make mistakes.”
Kashima trailed Urawa Reds by 10 points at the same stage of the 2007 season before coming through at the finish, and Oliveira is urging his players to draw on that experience over the coming weeks.
“The players know it is possible to do it because they have done it before,” he said. “The first time was very difficult — I think the worst because the difference was larger than it is now. The point is to show them how important it is to win games, and we still have a great chance to succeed.”
If going behind in the 11th minute wasn’t enough to take the wind out of Omiya’s sails, the manner in which Kashima took the lead certainly was. Koji Nakata fired off a shot from the edge of the box that looked innocuous enough, but Marquinhos — intentionally or otherwise — got a touch to deflect the ball past Omiya goalkeeper Takashi Kitano.
The visitors’ hopes of a comeback were boosted when Antlers captain Mitsuo Ogasawara left the fray with an injury in the 21st minute, only for Marquinhos to double Kashima’s lead five minutes later.
The frenzied aftermath of a free kick saw Shinzo Koroki hit the bar before Kitano clawed out Fellype Gabriel’s followup, but there would be no third reprieve as Marquinhos reacted quickest to head home the rebound amid claims of offside.
Kitano tipped over a Koroki effort moments later as Kashima threatened to run riot, and Marquinhos missed three good chances to complete his hat trick within the first 10 minutes of the second half alone.
But he would not have to wait much longer. A delicate interchange of passes with Fellype Gabriel opened up room in front of goal, and Marquinhos picked his spot to leave Kitano no chance.
“He is very strong,” Oliveira said of the 34-year-old striker. “I say to the players that from my own experience I was never as fit as I was when I was 35, especially when you only play once a week and the weather is not so hot.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, FC Tokyo’s woes continued with a 2-1 defeat away to Jubilo Iwata, dropping last season’s Nabisco Cup winner down a place to 15th after Vissel Kobe drew 1-1 with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Shimizu S-Pulse’s title ambitions took another dent with a 1-1 draw at Urawa, while Gamba Osaka beat Cerezo Osaka 3-2 in the Osaka derby. In the day’s other game, Kawasaki Frontale trounced Shonan Bellmare 6-1.