KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Masato Kudo scored on the stroke of halftime as Kashiwa Reysol scalped J. League leaders Kashima Antlers 1-0 on Saturday to pick up their third straight win.
Both teams went into the match at Hitachi Stadium having claimed back-to-back victories over the busy Golden Week schedule, but Kudo pounced at the end of a lively opening 45 minutes to ensure that it was Reysol who ended the day in a holiday mood.
Kudo retains an outside chance of being named in Japan’s World Cup squad when manager Alberto Zaccheroni unveils his selection on May 12, but the striker’s immediate concern was with helping his club move closer to the leaders with his third goal of the season.
“Goals aren’t everything, but scoring to help the team win is very important,” said Kudo. “I’m glad I could do that today.”
“We knew that if we had lost today we would have fallen seven points behind Antlers, but if we won the gap would only be one point. In times like that it’s up to me to score the goals, and that was something that was in my mind going into the game.”
Reysol have now gone eight league games unbeaten, having lost only once this season, and manager Nelsinho is pleased with his team’s progress.
“Today was as difficult a game as I expected against a quality team,” said the Brazilian. “In the first half we passed the ball well out of defense and made chances, but in the second half we weren’t able to attack as we would have liked.
“That said, we were able to defend very well against a good team. We kept our wits about us and it was a positive performance and a positive result.”
Both sides created several chances throughout a vibrant first half, with Kashiwa’s Hirofumi Watanabe heading narrowly over the bar and Reysol goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno denying Davi on the line at the other end.
But with halftime looming, the home side made the breakthrough. Junya Tanaka slid in to retrieve the ball in the Kashima box before feeding it to Kudo, who turned to rifle a shot past goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata into the corner of the net.
Gaku Shibasaki missed a chance to equalize in front of goal in the 60th minute, before Davi angled a shot just the wrong side of the post as the match moved into the final stages.
Caio and substitute Shuhei Akasaki were also unable to salvage a point for Antlers as the final whistle blew, but manager Toninho Cerezo is confident his team will rebound.
“Today’s game wasn’t so much about technique as who could run the most,” said Cerezo. “Reysol ran more than us and had the advantage of being at home, and their No. 9 (Kudo) is a quality player who can finish well.
“We made a lot of mistakes in our passing and decision making, but we are still a young team and when you make mistakes you learn from the experience.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, Urawa Reds moved top for the first time this season after a 1-0 win over FC Tokyo, Yuki Abe scoring the winner in the 79th minute.
Antlers slipped to second one point behind Reds but stayed ahead of Sagan Tosu and defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima on goal difference. Sagan beat Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0, while Sanfrecce drew 0-0 with Vissel Kobe.
Only two points separate the top six teams, with Vissel in fifth place ahead of Reysol on goal difference.
Elsewhere in the J. League, Japan striker Yoichiro Kakitani scored his first goal of the season and Diego Forlan bagged the winner as Cerezo Osaka beat Nagoya Grampus 2-1 to claim their first victory in seven games.
Yokohama F. Marinos snapped a seven-game winless streak by beating Gamba Osaka 2-0, while Vegalta Sendai picked up just their second win of the season, 1-0 over bottom side Tokushima Vortis.
Elsewhere, Kawasaki Frontale beat Ventforet Kofu 2-0, and Omiya Ardija and Albirex Niigata drew 2-2.