SAITAMA — Nine-man Kashima Antlers stunned Urawa Reds on Saturday with a 1-0 win that takes the 2007 J. League title race down to the wire.
Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Saturday. Kashima won 1-0.
Leader Urawa, looking to seal the championship with a win over its second-placed rival, looked to have the advantage in a bad-tempered first half when Antlers’ Toru Araiba was sent off for a wild challenge in the 42nd minute.
But Kashima came out fighting after the interval, knowing that only a win would be enough to keep it in the hunt for the title with one game left to play.
Antlers’ adventure was rewarded when Takuya Nozawa fired in the winner midway through the second half, and not even the late sending-off of substitute Yuji Funayama could shake Kashima’s backs-to-the wall defending as it held on for the win.
Antlers now lie just one point behind Reds going into the final day of the season. Reds can claim the championship with an away win over league whipping boys Yokohama FC next Saturday, but anything less would see Antlers snatch it from them if they win their match against Shimizu S-Pulse.
Gamba Osaka is now out of the title running after conceding a late equalizer in its match against Vissel Kobe.
After such a poor start to the season, Antlers coach Oswaldo Oliveira admits he is surprised to see his side in with a title shot, but insists he will consider it a job well done even if his side does not manage to go the final yard.
“If the championship comes, then very good,” he said. “But for me it is a successful season anyway because we have had some very important performances and the way we had to cross to arrive here was very difficult.
“Now my hope is that Yokohama can do what they haven’t done all season.”
Reds coach Holger Osieck is taking nothing for granted against a Yokohama side that became the fastest to ever be relegated from the top flight when its exit was confirmed earlier this season.
“Now it is do or die,” Osieck said. “I wouldn’t say we have the easiest game next week, because if you follow the last couple of games they (Yokohama) are more solid in defense. I think they are going to be compact at the back.”
Osieck was also quick to refute suggestions that his players are flaking under the pressure of a title race few would have thought was possible only a few weeks ago.
“The pressure is permanently on,” he said. “We have been under pressure all season. Today wasn’t meant to be and we can’t look back.”
Antlers enjoyed the lion’s share of possession as the game began, but a lack of cutting edge in the final third let Reds off the hook.
With players on both sides repeatedly committing niggly fouls, space for fluency and composure was at a premium.
Marquinhos took matters into his own hands in the 37th minute, driving at the Urawa goal only to see his shot saved and his rebound hit the side netting.
The Brazilian’s direct approach jolted the match into life, and with the tempo ratcheted up a notch, Araiba clattered into Hajime Hosogai to earn a red card.
Antlers began the second half unbowed, and got their reward when Nozawa rifled the ball into the back of the net in the 67th minute.
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