KAWASAKI – Kashima Antlers beat Frontale at Kawasaki for the first time in a decade. Unfortunately for the J. league champions, Nagoya Grampus won, too — and put themselves in a position to capture their first title next weekend.
Mitsuo Ogasawara’s fluke goal midway through the second half won it 2-1 for Oswaldo Oliveira’s side on Sunday, as Antlers produced their first victory over Frontale at Todoroki since March 2000.
In the 62nd minute, Ogasawara launched an early cross from just over the halfway line for Yasushi Endo, which forced a penalty-box collision between goalkeeper Rikihiro Sugiyama and defender Yusuke Mori.
Sugiyama had come on at halftime for Takashi Aizawa, who left the game with a concussion.
The ball rolled right past Sugiyama and Mori unscathed and into the net, Kashima cashing in three points for a season total of 55 with four games left — still eight points behind Nagoya, who defeated 10-man Omiya Ardija 2-1 at home.
Grampus can win their first league championship on Saturday if they beat relegated Shonan Bellmare and if Kashima fail to win at Vissel Kobe.
Gamba Osaka, who defeated Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 in an evening affair, are the only other team alive in the title race. Akira Nishino’s side are 10 points off the pace of Grampus.
Kawasaki dropped out after their loss Sunday.
“We still have four matches to play,” said Ogasawara, who was credited with his second goal of the season. “We have to keep playing.”
“There’s no question there was pressure on us today,” Oliveira said. “It’s always a fierce battle when we play at Todoroki. Frontale are not the easiest opponents.”
“We prevailed because the players did what they had to do in order to win. From my time since 2007, we never won a game here. It’s really difficult to win.”
The Brazilian manager is trying to work another late-season miracle, but admitted this year has been the toughest of his four years in Japan after losing several key players during the campaign.
“Sure, we miss the players,” Oliveira said of defenders Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo, and substitutes Yuzo Tashiro and Chikashi Masuda.
“We have 10 draws so far. Our defense is still the best, our (goal difference) is the best. But in some decisive moments, we should have more quality.”
The game opened up right from the start in a meeting between two teams desperate for three points.
Kashima were coming off a critical home win over Nagoya last weekend that kept their title hopes alive by a hair, reducing their deficit with Dragan Stojkovic’s side.
But it was Kawasaki who drew first blood in the 20th minute through Vitor Junior, who netted off the rebound of an acrobatic Takuro Yajima volley.
Antlers equalized seven minutes to halftime, when former Japan midfielder Koji Nakata pushed in Takuya Nozawa’s free kick by the far post.
Sunday was the first of four games Antler must play over the next nine days, including an Emperor’s Cup tie with Cerezo Osaka on Wednesday.
“We play today, then we play on the 17th, then we play on the 20th, then the 23rd. In nine days, we play four games,” Oliveira said. “From where do they choose this kind of schedule?”
“It’s different from Brazil or Europe where they play 60, 70 games a season. Suddenly we play all the games together. It’s difficult.”