NIIGATA – The J. League championship became Nagoya Grampus’ to lose on Sunday as Kashima Antlers were condemned to a 2-1 defeat by Albirex Niigata, a result that left Grampus 11 points clear at the top of the table.
Marcio Richardes’ second-half strike put Niigata in front and although Kashima piled on the pressure after leveling through a sumptuous finish from Toru Araiba, the visitors were left shell-shocked when Isao Homma grabbed the winner in stoppage time at Big Swan.
Chasing an unprecedented fourth consecutive league crown, Kashima now has a mountain to climb with six games of the season left to play, starting with next week’s visit of Grampus.
Nagoya could wrap up the title as early as Nov. 14 but Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira, whose team overturned a 10-point deficit with five games left to pip Urawa Reds to the title on the last day of the 2007 campaign, insists the race is not over yet.
“Obviously our (title) chances diminished with today’s result but it’s not over yet,” said Oliveira. “The only way for us to stay in the hunt is to win and we just have to prepare ourselves properly for the next game.”
Nagoya picked up a 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka on Saturday to open up a provisional 11 point lead after Gamba Osaka crashed to a 4-2 defeat at home to relegation-haunted Vissel Kobe.
Marcio Richardes broke the deadlock with his 12th goal of the season, Hideo Oshima teeing up the Brazilian to rifle in on 48 minutes.
Elsewhere, Norihisa Shimizu bagged the winner as Yokohama F. Marinos came from behind to beat Nabisco Cup finalists Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1.