• Kyodo

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Kashima Antlers maintained their lead at the top of the J. League first division despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home to Oita Trinita on Sunday.

Kashima stayed four points clear at the halfway stage of the season as nearest rival Gamba Osaka missed the chance to close the gap after succumbing to a late equalizer in a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Shimizu S-Pulse.

Gamba looked to be on course for a dramatic come-from-behind win over Shimizu after two late goals from Araujo had put them 3-2 in front with seconds of second-half stoppage time remaining.

In-form South Korean striker Cho Jae Jin gave S-Pulse the lead for the second time in the 66th minute when he slid home his eighth goal of the season.

But Araujo headed in a corner from Yasuhito Endo a minute from time and league-leading Brazilian striker Araujo struck what he thought was the winner until Choi Tae Uk snatched a last-gasp equalizer to round off the scoring.

Four-time champion Kashima led through a close-range effort from defender Daiki Iwamasa five minutes before halftime but had to settle for a point after Teppei Nishiyama leveled for visiting Oita with a deflected drive shortly after the hour mark.

Kashima tops the table with 36 points from 17 games, with Gamba on 32, while Yokohama F. Marinos also failed to make up ground on the leaders after a crushing 4-0 reverse at FC Tokyo left the defending champions 10 points adrift.

Boosted by its first win in three months at Shimizu in midweek, Tokyo ran out deserved winners courtesy of a bullet header from Yasuyuki Konno and second-half goals from substitutes Norio Suzuki (twice) and Yuta Baba.

Ryoichi Maeda and Bobby Cullen both grabbed doubles as Jubilo Iwata piled more pressure on under-fire coach Osvaldo Ardiles after thrashing Tokyo Verdy 6-0.

Verdy, which has conceded 25 goals in its last five matches, slipped to second from bottom as Kashiwa Reysol won 4-0 at bottom club Vissel Kobe, which had Ryuhei Niwa sent off after 31 minutes.

In other matches, goals from Brazilians Edmilson and Anderson Lima lifted Albirex Niigata to a 3-0 win over Nagoya Grampus Eight while Kawasaki Frontale edged 10-man Cerezo Osaka 3-2.

Monday’s matches see JEF United Chiba welcome Omiya Ardija while Urawa Reds entertain Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Zico’s All-Star move

Japan coach Zico appears to have bowed to pressure from J. League officials and looks set to give the annual J. League All-Star match priority over buildup matches for the national team ahead of next year’s World Cup finals.

Japan’s scheduled away friendlies against Latvia and Ukraine this autumn fall either side of the All-Star match at Oita Big Eye on Oct. 9 but Zico is to allow the J. League to rob him of a number of key players.

“I already had this in mind because the J. League has always been cooperative when it comes to the national team,” Zico said after returning to Japan from a vacation on Sunday.

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