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Vissel edge Antlers

by Andrew Mckirdy

Staff Writer

Vissel Kobe went top of the J. League for at least 24 hours after an incident-packed 3-2 win over Kashima Antlers on Saturday.

Both sides went into the game at Kashima Stadium knowing that a win would be enough to claim first place with leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima not playing until Sunday, and goals from Antlers’ Yasushi Endo and Vissel’s Jung Woo-young sent the teams into halftime on level terms.

A controversial strike from Brazilian striker Davi gave Kashima the lead in the 54th minute, only for Vissel to hit back when Marquinhos scored from the penalty spot following a handball by Takeshi Aoki that earned the Antlers defender a red card.

Keijiro Ogawa then headed the winner for Vissel two minutes later, giving the Kansai side its fourth straight victory and top spot in the table in its first season back in J1 after a year’s absence.

“I had missed a few chances before I scored, so I’m happy to have got one in the end,” said Ogawa, who scored his first goal of the season.

“We were playing against a team that doesn’t concede many goals, so I’m pleased to have scored the winner. We’re going for the title, so we want to keep this winning streak going.”

Sanfrecce can reclaim top spot with a win away to Albirex Niigata on Sunday, but Vissel are happy to lead the way for at least the time being, one point ahead of the defending champions.

“Going top of the league is very significant for us,” said Vissel manager Ryo Adachi. “We’re serious about contending for the title this season, so even if this only lasts for one day it is very important.

“It was Ogawa’s first goal of the season, but according to our data he runs more than any other player. He’s been the same in every game since last year. It’s easy to judge strikers solely by their goals, but he contributes a lot to the team.”

A moment’s silence was held before the game for Antlers’ longtime stadium announcer Danny Ishio, who lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday aged 66.

Endo put the home side ahead with the first real attack of the game, volleying home at the back post from a cross from Jair before lifting his black armband to the sky.

Jung replied with the equalizer in the 25th minute, beautifully curling a free kick past Hitoshi Sogahata from just outside the box.

Endo almost scored a carbon copy of his first goal from another Jair cross soon after, but there was nothing conventional about the way Davi gave Antlers the lead nine minutes into the second half.

A linesman’s flag appeared to have halted a Kashima attack down the right, with Vissel goalkeeper Kaito Yamamoto passing the ball back to the place of the perceived infringement in anticipation of a free kick. But Davi spotted that the referee had yet to blow his whistle, and rolled the ball into an empty net to give Kashima the lead.

Vissel quickly put the incident behind them and equalized from the penalty spot in the 67th minute. Aoki — who scored an own goal in Kashima’s 2-1 defeat to Albirex last weekend — inexplicably put his hand up to deflect a free kick into the box, and Marquinhos sent Sogahata the wrong way with the resulting penalty.

Two minutes later, Vissel had the lead. Marquinhos raided forward before sending a cross into the box, and Ogawa took advantage of the visitors’ one-man advantage to head home unmarked at the near post.

“We conceded from a free kick and penalty,” said Kashima manager Toninho Cerezo. “We missed so many chances to score you could hardly believe your eyes.

“But although we lost the game, we did a lot of things very well. We didn’t give up until the end and we didn’t do much wrong. It’s a long season, and you win some, you lose some and you draw some.”

Elsewhere in the J. League, Urawa Reds beat Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 to move above Antlers and level on 16 points with Sanfrecce.

Sagan Tosu drew alongside Antlers on points with a 3-0 win over Vegalta Sendai, while Shimizu S-Pulse climbed higher up the table with a 4-0 rout of whipping boys Tokushima Vortis. Vortis have no points after eight games, having scored once and conceded 26.

FC Tokyo beat Cerezo Osaka 2-0, Yasuyuki Konno scored a late winner to give Gamba Osaka a 2-1 victory over Omiya Ardija, and Yokohama F. Marinos and Kashiwa Reysol drew 0-0.

In the day’s late game, Ventforet Kofu beat Nagoya Grampus 2-0.