KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Takuya Nozawa scored with a picture-perfect free kick as Kashima Antlers maintained their stranglehold over J. League rival Gamba Osaka with a 2-1 win on Saturday.
Gamba arrived at Kashima Stadium hoping to get the better of an Antlers side that took all six points from their league meetings last season and began the new campaign with a penalty shootout victory in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup.
But a header from Daiki Iwamasa in first-half injury time gave Kashima the lead before Nozawa curled in a second midway through the second half, leaving Gamba with too much to do despite substitute Kenta Hoshihara’s 80th-minute reply.
“It was an important victory because Gamba have been one of the best and sometimes the best team in Japan,” said Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira. “This week, we played a hard game in the Asian Champions League and we had no time for training, only recovery.
“I talked with my players and I told them that we would have to be intelligent. I knew that Gamba would press and that they would leave spaces behind them, and that these moments would decide the game.”
Instead, the game turned on two set pieces, leaving Oliveira satisfied that the work carried out on the training ground is paying off for real.
“Nozawa practices a lot for that kind of situation,” he said. “In the ACL on Wednesday we also scored from a corner like today, so it’s nice.”
Lucas almost gave Gamba the lead against the run of play when he drilled a shot past the post five minutes before the interval, but Kashima’s first-half dominance was convincing and Iwamasa underlined the point with the opening goal. Nozawa swung in a corner, and Iwamasa somehow managed to rise above a scrum of players to plant a sweet header past Yosuke Fujigaya’s reach.
Marquinhos almost doubled Antlers’ lead with a shot five minutes into the second half, but a sustained period of Gamba pressure meant the home side would have to wait another 15 minutes before hitting the back of the net again. Kazumichi Takagi brought down Shinzo Koroki 10 meters outside the box, and Nozawa stepped up to curl a beautiful right-foot strike around the wall and past Fujigaya.
Gamba’s luck looked out when Toru Araiba cleared Takashi Usami’s shot off the line moments later, but 22-year-old Hoshihara set up a tense finish with a well-taken turn and shot that beat Hitoshi Sogahata with 10 minutes left to play.
Sogahata foiled Usami with Gamba’s best chance to draw level, however, leaving manager Akira Nishino to make the long journey home empty-handed once again.
“It was a good performance from the players but we didn’t have enough to win the game,” Nishino said. “We became more aggressive as the game went on, but we just couldn’t find a way through.”
The result lifted Kashima up one place to fourth, but Shimizu S-Pulse kept hold of the top spot after Frode Johnsen’s last-minute winner downed Urawa Reds 2-1 at Ecopa Stadium.
There was late drama elsewhere as Marcus Tulio Tanaka scored in the 89th minute to lead Nagoya Grampus past Montedio Yamagata 2-1, while Kawasaki Frontale came back from a halftime deficit to beat Shonan Bellmare 4-2.
Yokohama F. Marinos also claimed three points with a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata, Albirex Niigata beat Vissel Kobe 2-1, and Vegalta Sendai and Cerezo Osaka drew 1-1.
In the day’s late games, Omiya Ardija defeated Kyoto Sanga 2-1, and Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat FC Tokyo 2-1.