KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kengo Kawamata strengthened his case for inclusion in Japan’s World Cup squad with a fabulous strike as Albirex Niigata knocked Kashima Antlers off the J. League summit with a 2-1 victory on Saturday.
Kawamata opened the scoring midway through the first half with a well-taken volley at Kashima Stadium. Shoma Doi leveled just after the half-hour but Niigata snatched all three points and extended its unbeaten streak to five matches when Takeshi Aoki put through his own net with 16 minutes left.
“It a tough game played at a fast pace and the result could have gone either way. There was a lot of goalmouth action and I think it was enjoyable to watch for the fans,” said Niigata manager Masaaki Yanagishita, whose side climbed to sixth on 12 points.
“I told the players that in this kind of game, we would get punished if we allowed (Kashima) even the smallest opening, but the players showed tremendous concentration and got the three points for me.”
Antlers, who were seeking a third straight win, fell to second place on 15 points while Vissel Kobe improved to 14 points after a 3-0 win at home to bottom club Tokushima Vortis.
Reigning champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima unseated Antlers at the top of the table by a point after a narrow 1-0 home win over FC Tokyo.
Kawamata, who impressed at Japan’s training camp earlier this week after being handed his first callup by Alberto Zaccheroni, looked lively early on and the 24-year-old broke the deadlock with his second league goal of the season on 20 minutes.
Sho Naruoka sent a high ball over from the right side of the box and the shaven-headed Kawamata gave Hitoshi Sogahata no chance with an angled volley just inside the far post.
“Kashima started the day top of the table so it feels good to beat them,” said Kawamata.
“I hadn’t scored for a long time and I felt responsible. I took part in the national team training camp and was able to talk with lots of people and play with talented players. I was able to take a lot of positives from that, and they have worked in my favor.”
Kashima had enjoyed a couple of early chances, with Yasushi Endo unable to finish off a weaving run into the box, and the seven-time champions leveled on 31 minutes.
Shuto Yamamoto did well to get to the byline before dragging the ball back for Doi, who steered home from close range.
Shuhei Akasaki was denied by a good block from Niigata goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita as Kashima pressed in the second half and Gaku Shibasaki’s touch let him down on the break with five men against two.
But Toninho Cerezo’s men were made to pay as Niigata secured victory, Aoki turning Musashi Suzuki’s cross into his own net after the through ball from Kawamata.
“I thought it was a good performance and we just have to pick ourselves up and keep going,” said Cerezo, who was without the services of suspended striker Davi.
“We were missing Davi but Akasaki was technically solid and I am satisfied with the way he played.”
In other games, it was honors even in the Osaka derby as Cerezo and Gamba played out a 2-2 draw at Yanmar Stadium, Uruguay striker Diego Forlan and Hiroyuki Abe each scoring twice.
Vegalta Sendai picked up their first win of the season just days after parting company with former Australia boss Graham Arnold, Shingo Akamine grabbing both goals in a 2-0 win at Yokohama F. Marinos.
At Toyota Stadium, Shinzo Koroki scored in the 95th minute as Urawa Reds came from behind to win 2-1 against Nagoya Grampus, and Genki Omae also scored late as Shimizu S-Pulse registered a 2-0 over Omiya Ardjia at Nihondaira.
Sagan defeated Ventforet Kofu 2-0 in Tosu.