KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Masaki Fukai struck twice as Kashima Antlers returned to winning ways with a 4-0 thrashing of struggling Vissel Kobe in the J. League first division on Saturday.
The lively Fukai laid on the opener for Alex Mineiro at the start of the second half and capped a fine performance with goals in the 62nd and 70th minutes before substitute Takuya Nozawa completed the rout in stoppage time to reignite Kashima’s title bid.
The result put Kashima within one point of leader Gamba Osaka, which was stunned 2-1 by lowly Kashiwa Reysol, Japan striker Keiji Tamada the hero with both goals in Chiba Prefecture.
With 10 games left to play, Gamba tops the table with 47 points, with Kashima on 46. Jubilo Iwata and JEF United Chiba have 38 each.
At Kashima Stadium, the home side dominated from start to finish but had to wait until the 47th minute to break the deadlock and the floodgates as Alex Mineiro grabbed his 10th goal of the season following a well-worked move.
Masashi Motoyama released Fukai with a clever pass and the latter whipped a cross in from the left for Mineiro to bury with a first-time finish.
Fukai grabbed the second, gliding past Hiroyuki Komoto to smash the ball beyond Kenta Tokushige and the 25-year-old then killed off the game when he slotted home Motoyama’s cross from close range.
Fukai was unlucky not to complete his hat trick with a header that crept just over the crossbar. Nozawa swept a Mineiro pass into an empty net to round off the scoring in the dying seconds.
At a packed Kashiwa Stadium, Gamba drew first blood in the 14th minute, league-leading striker Araujo raced on to a perfectly weighted through ball from Masashi Oguro to slot home his 25th of the season.
Kashiwa managed few chances in a scrappy first half but drew level through Tamada in the 21st minute, the pint-sized forward swiveling on a sixpence to prod home from close range.
Razor-sharp Tamada completed his brace seven minutes after the interval to seal the win with Brazilian strike partner Reinaldo again the provider.
“It was important that we didn’t let ourselves get intimidated today and that is something (new assistant coach Ruy) Ramos told us about,” said match-winner Tamada. “I was really eager to score today and I am glad I could keep cool and put my chances away.”
Elsewhere, Yuto Sato scored the only goal of the game as Chiba won 1-0 away to Omiya Ardija while Iwata’s title hopes were dented after a 2-0 defeat at Cerezo Osaka. Fabinho and former Japan striker Akinori Nishizawa on target for the home side.
Akira Konno scored a 63rd-minute winner as Kawasaki Frontale beat former neighbor Tokyo Verdy 2-1 at Ajinomoto Stadium, Oita Trinita continued its revival with a 2-0 win at home to Nagoya Grampus Eight while Yokohama F. Marinos and FC Tokyo drew 0-0.
In Sunday’s matches, Shimizu S-Pulse hosts Albirex Niigata and Sanfrecce Hiroshima welcomes Urawa Reds.
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