CHIBA — Kashima Antlers gave the rest of the J. League an ominous demonstration of their strength in depth with a 2-0 win at JEF United Chiba on Saturday.
Antlers, missing star striker Marquinhos through injury and resting several regulars ahead of Tuesday’s Asian Champions League clash against Samsung Suwon Bluewings, took the lead at Fukuda Denshi Arena as Mitsuo Ogasawara set up Takuya Nozawa in the 15th minute.
Ogasawara doubled Antlers’ advantage five minutes into the second half with a penalty awarded for a foul on Shinzo Koroki, and the defending champions closed out the game with what manager Oswaldo Oliveira described as one of the best performances of his tenure.
“I think we played a great game,” the Brazilian said. “It was the best game the team has played this season certainly, and one of the best in all my time in Kashima.
“We have a good balance of young and old players, and this is very important. Our average age today was 26-point-something. We had (Go) Oiwa age 36 and (Yuya) Osako age 18 — double the age. When Oiwa was starting out in his career, Osako was just born. He could be his father.”
Osako and strike partner Koroki looked unfazed by Marquhinos’ absence as Koroki forced a scrambled save from JEF goalkeeper Masahiro Okamoto after a slaloming run in the fifth minute.
Ten minutes later, Antlers took the lead with the simplest of moves. Ogasawara found space down the left wing, and Nozawa was on hand to direct his cross into the net as the home defense stayed rooted to the spot.
Tatsuya Yazawa went within a hair’s-breadth of equalizing a minute later when Hitoshi Sogahata tipped his header onto the crossbar, and suddenly the Kashima goalkeeper found himself a busy man as JEF went all out to get back on level terms.
But that task was made all the harder when Eddy Bosnar and Ryota Aoki combined to bring down Koroki, and Ogasawara duly dispatched the penalty to give Antlers a 2-0 lead.
Okamoto denied Osako from a swift break in front of goal shortly after, and although Tatsunori Arai and substitute Alex had chances to haul JEF back in the game, it was Kashima that finished looking more likely to score again.
Urawa Reds stayed level on points with Antlers at the top of the table after a late Marcus Tulio Tanaka goal gave the Saitama side a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata.
Elsewhere in the J. League, Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus both kept up the pace with wins over Oita Trinita and Kyoto Sanga, respectively, while Jubilo Iwata also took three points with a 1-0 victory over Vissel Kobe.
Improving Yokohama F. Marinos notched another win, 2-1 over Kawasaki Frontale, and a Naohiro Ishikawa hat-trick powered FC Tokyo past Omiya Ardija 3-2.
High-flying Montedio Yamagata played out a 0-0 draw with Kashiwa Reysol, while Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Shimizu S-Pulse also finished goalless.
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