KAWASAKI – Ten-man Kashima Antlers underlined their champion pedigree to hold in-form Kawasaki Frontale to a 1-1 draw and retain their comfortable lead in the J. League standings on Sunday.
Kashima had defender Atsuto Uchida sent off before falling behind to Juninho’s first-half penalty, but a fine finish from Shinzo Koroki earned it a share of the spoils and kept Oswaldo Oliveira’s side eight points clear at the top of the table.
With 16 games played, Kashima has 39 points, eight more than Albirex Niigata, Frontale and Urawa Reds. Niigata trounced Kashiwa Reysol 4-0 away on Saturday while Urawa won 3-2 at Montedio Yamagata.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Nagoya Grampus turned a corner with a dramatic 2-1 win over Gamba Osaka at Toyota Stadium while Jubilo Iwata edged Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 at Big Arch.
At Todoroki Stadium, a tightly fought first half provided few highlights but the game exploded into life 11 minutes before the break when Kashima was reduced to 10 men.
Referee Yuichi Nishimura decided that Uchida had handled Hiroyuki Taniguchi’s goal-bound header, and promptly issued the Japan international a straight red card before Juninho calmly dispatched the resultant spot kick.
Kawasaki went close to capitalizing on its numerical advantage two minutes into the second half, but Chong Tese headed Juninho’s cross off the outside of the post and Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata denied Kengo Nakamura with a smart block on the hour mark.
However, a momentary lapse in concentration from Shuhei Terada allowed Kashima back into the game with a goal that had first-class quality stamped all over it.
Marquinhos intercepted Terada’s stray pass to feed Koroki, and the striker kept his head to round Eiji Kawashima and slot home the equalizer from a tight angle on 65 minutes.
Kawasaki pressed for a winner but Sogahata produced another important save from Yusuke Tasaka and Kashima held firm for a well-deserved point.
“It was extremely tough out there,” said Koroki. “We were one man down but the manager told us at halftime not to give up and try and come back and win it.”
“We weren’t able to win but getting a point is huge. Although my goal only leveled the game it certainly felt good,” he added.
At Toyota Stadium, Leandro opened the scoring for Gamba with a sumptuous finish after nine minutes but Davi bagged his 10th of the season to equalize on the stroke of halftime, slotting home from the penalty spot after he had been tripped by Gamba keeper Naoki Matsuyo.
Leandro was denied a second by Seigo Narazaki with a minute remaining and Nagoya snapped its four-match losing streak when Yuki Maki pounced on a poor clearance from Matsuyo to snatch victory.
“We made a very exciting game against a very strong team but I think that finally we deserved to win, and this is absolutely amazing what has happened in the last minute,” said Grampus manager Dragan Stojkovic.
“We have been waiting a long time for a win so I think that this important victory will be very important for the spirit of my team and I think we have turned another page for Grampus.”