Defending champion Kashima off to losing start in Nabisco Cup

Kyodo

Defending champions Kashima Antlers suffered a 2-1 home defeat against Ventforet Kofu on Wednesday in the opening round of group-stage matches in the Nabisco Cup.

Kashima came into the game on the back of three wins and a defeat in the new J. League season, but first-half goals from Kofu’s Australian midfielder Billy Celeski and Brazilian forward Nilson proved too much, with the Antlers’ only reply coming through half-time substitute Shuto Yamamoto despite their relative dominance.

“The manager told us we’ll go on the counter as we have quality players,” Nilson said. “It was a big win today, the fact that we kept them out toward the end deserves credit.”

Kashima’s backline failed to clear their lines in the sixth minute following a throw-in from the left, allowing Celeski to receive the ball back from Nilson before the Australian steered to inside the far post from 12 yards.

Kashima forward Dinei hit his shot — sandwiched by decent 25-yard efforts from Yasushi Endo and Ryota Nagaki — straight at keeper Kosuke Okanishi in a one-on-one, while Kofu’s Cristiano let fly from 40 yards 10 minutes before the break with a shot that brushed the bar.

Dinei narrowly missed with a close-range volley moments before Kofu added their second on the stroke of halftime. From Cristiano’s corner, Masatoshi Kushibiki saved headers from Nilson and Ryo Shinzato but the Japan Under-23 keeper was helpless as Nilson tapped in.

“I was saying to Cristiano before the game it’d be good if I could score off his delivery. The ball was good and it was just as we were practicing,” Nilson said.

Kashima kept up the pressure after the break. Endo covered his face after dragging his shot wide in the 58th minute, when Dinei’s holdup play in the box set things up nicely for the left-footer, but Yamamoto scored as he nodded home Yukitoshi Ito’s right-wing cross to cut the deficit in half.

Ventforet did not allow Kashima any clear-cut chances thereafter and Cristiano should have put the tie to bed when a long ball from the back left him with Kushibiki to beat, but the Brazilian’s looping effort missed the target.

In two other Group A games, Omiya Ardija edged Nagoya Grampus 1-0 at home while Vissel Kobe came from behind to win 2-1 at Jubilo Iwata.

In Group B, Vegalta Sendai claimed a 1-0 home win over Albirex Niigata, early-season strugglers Avispa Fukuoka and Kashiwa Reysol shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw, while J1 leaders Kawasaki Frontale were held to a scoreless draw against Yokohama F. Marinos.