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Efficient Antlers advance to Nabisco Cup final

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Defending champions Kashima Antlers earned a shot at a record fifth Nabisco Cup title after claiming a 5-4 aggregate semifinal win over Kashiwa Reysol with a 2-2 second-leg draw on Saturday.

Antlers, heading into the match at Hitachi Stadium with a 3-2 lead from the first leg, took control with first-half goals from Dutra and Yuya Osako before Jorge Wagner pulled one back for Reysol in the 37th minute.

Osako also missed a penalty before the halftime whistle had even sounded, and even though Reysol’s Neto Baiano leveled the score on the night in injury time, it was not enough to prevent Antlers from setting up a Nov. 3 final showdown with Shimizu S-Pulse.

A Genki Omae hat trick gave S-Pulse a 3-0 second-leg win over FC Tokyo in the day’s earlier semifinal, wiping out a 2-1 first-leg deficit to give the Shizuoka side a 4-2 victory overall.

“Reysol are the J. League champions, and we knew it would be a tough game today,” said Kashima manager Jorginho, who won the competition with the Ibaraki club as a player in 1997. “In the first half we found the gaps in their defense, and I was sure that if we could get the third goal it would all be over. But winning games like this is not so easy.”

Reysol knew that a 1-0 win would be enough to send them into the final at National Stadium on the strength of their two first-leg away goals, but manager Nelsinho had to rip up his game plan after finding his team two down after only 24 minutes.

An unmarked Koki Mizuno fluffed the chance to give Kashiwa an early lead when he shot wide in the fifth minute, and the miss would prove costly as Antlers broke the deadlock. Osako split open a static Reysol defense with one pass, and Dutra latched onto it to hit a first-time shot across Takanori Sugeno.

In the 24th minute, Dutra returned the favor. The Brazilian again ripped a hole in the Reysol defense with a pass through the middle, and this time it was Osako who dispatched the ball with a crisp finish.

But if the match was beginning to look like a lost cause for Kashiwa, Wagner gave the home side hope in the 37th minute. The Brazilian beat Hitoshi Sogahata with a brilliant free kick from the edge of the area, only for the dark clouds immediately to return when Antlers were awarded a penalty less than a minute after the restart.

Akimi Barada was booked for felling Dutra in the box, but Sugeno got down quickly to hold out Osako’s spot kick, and Reysol breathed another sigh of relief when the striker blasted the rebound high over the crossbar.

That left Kashiwa needing two goals to take the match into extra time, but Baiano’s late contribution — slamming home a loose ball from a throw-in — was not enough to stop Antlers from taking their place in the final for an eighth time.

“It is obviously a plus to get to the final, and hopefully it should have an effect on our league performance as well,” said first-year manager Jorginho, whose side currently sits 13th in the J. League table. “We had a bad start in the league and it took time for the players to adapt to me.

“We are still aiming for fourth place in the league and we still have the Emperor’s Cup to come as well. This is a sport where results count for a lot, but I hope I’ll be back to lead the team next season too.”