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Second-half goals from Japan internationals Takayuki Suzuki and Mitsuo Ogasawara helped high-flying Kashima Antlers come from behind to scramble a 2-2 draw away to Albirex Niigata in the J. League on Saturday.

News photoAlbirex Niigata Midfielder Fabinho scores a goal in the 46th minute of Saturday’s J. League first-division match against Kashima Antlers at Niigata Stadium. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.

Two strikes in quick succession at the start of the second half from Brazilian Fabinho and defender Yasushi Kita put Niigata in the driving seat at Big Swan before Suzuki sparked Kashima’s comeback by slotting home from the penalty spot in the 66th minute.

Suzuki’s spot kick reduced the deficit after Kita’s outstanding solo effort in the 49th minute and dead-ball specialist Ogasawara grabbed the equalizer with a trademark free-kick 17 minutes from time.

Despite the draw, Kashima still hold a commanding lead at the top of the first-division standings on 29 points from 12 matches, nine clear of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, which won 1-0 away to Omiya Ardija thanks to Shunsuke Maeda’s last-gasp goal.

Masashi Oguro and Araujo both grabbed doubles as visiting Gamba Osaka overpowered crosstown rival Cerezo Osaka 4-2 to move into third ahead of Nagoya Grampus Eight, which was handed a shock 2-0 loss at home to lowly Vissel Kobe.

At the other end of the table, Tokyo Verdy completed a miserable week for troubled Kashiwa Reysol with a 1-0 win at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Brazilian striker Washington set up Kazuki Hiramoto for the simplest of finishes in the 33rd minute but Ossie Ardiles’ men were indebted to Hiroki Mizuhara, who pulled off a string of fine saves to keep Kashiwa at bay in his first appearance in the top flight in 10 years.

Kashiwa’s sixth defeat of the season came a day after the Chiba Prefecture club were handed a J. League record 10 million yen fine as punishment for crowd trouble after its 2-0 home defeat by Nagoya Grampus Eight last month.

Elsewhere, Shimizu S-Pulse beat Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 to record its first away victory of the season, Yoshikiyo Kuboyama heading home what proved to be the winner after two minutes.

In Saturday’s evening game, Austria international Mario Haas and Seiichiro Maki were both on target in JEF United Chiba’s 2-1 win over struggling FC Tokyo.

Venue decided

Soccer’s world governing body has formally decided to hold next month’s World Cup qualifier between Japan and North Korea at Suphachalasai Stadium in Bangkok, Japanese soccer officials said Saturday.

FIFA has notified the Japan Football Association of the decision to stage the June 8 clash at the stadium, located in the central part of Bangkok with a seating capacity of about 40,000, the officials said.

The 60,000-seat Rajamangala National Stadium had initially been considered a strong candidate to accommodate the Group B match after FIFA ordered it played behind closed doors in the Thai capital as punishment for crowd trouble that marred North Korea’s 2-0 loss to Iran in Pyongyang in March.

Officials cited security reasons for the stadium selection in addition to the fact that the match will be played without spectators, making it unnecessary to use a large stadium.

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