KAWASAKI – Kawasaki Frontale ensured Kashima Antlers’ stop-start season remained stuck in first gear with a pulsating 3-2 win over the former J. League champions on Sunday.
Asian Champions League commitments meant Antlers went into the match at Todoroki Stadium having played two games less than the majority of their rivals, with only four points to show from their three outings so far this campaign.
But goals from Juninho and Koji Yamase in a storming first half by Frontale made Antlers’ chances of kickstarting their season all the more difficult, and although Yasushi Endo pulled one back five minutes after the restart, substitute Yu Kobayashi stretched the home side’s lead to render Carlao’s injury-time reply nothing more than a consolation for the Ibaraki side.
The result marked a happy reunion for Kawasaki manager Naoki Soma against the club for which he made 250 appearances as a left-back from 1994-2003, but the 39-year-old was thinking only of the three points after the final whistle.
“We were determined to win this game because we lost the last one,” he said. “That was a disappointing result, but the players were really focused on this game. It wasn’t just about me against Kashima — the players really wanted it.
“For me personally, more than beating Kashima I look at this as a really big win.”
Frontale blew Antlers away in an overwhelmingly one-sided first half, and it took a 50th-minute goal from Endo to belatedly jolt the seven-time champions into life.
“In the second half we fought much harder and our concentration was much better,” said Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira. “We should have played the first half the same way as we played the second.”
Juninho capitalized on the home side’s bright start in the 10th minute, poking home Kengo Nakamura’s corner after Kosuke Kikuchi had helped it on its way.
Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata denied Juninho a second soon after as Frontale threatened to run riot, and Yamase underlined that dominance with a goal in the 31st minute. Nakamura picked out Takuro Yajima with a cleverly disguised ball into the box, and the striker moved it on for Yamase to lash home with a vicious swing of his left boot.
Frontale’s challenge was to continue that momentum into the second half, but Endo complicated matters when he turned in a Takuya Nozawa cross to hand Antlers a lifeline. Endo’s bustling runs began to pose more problems for the home side as the second half wore on, and Frontale goalkeeper Takashi Aizawa had to be sharp to tip a shot from the midfielder over the bar in the 63rd minute.
But Kobayashi nipped the revival in the bud as he slid in for Frontale’s third in the 78th minute, with Carlao’s scrappy injury-time effort coming too late to restoke the Kashima flames.
“You could see the players’ hunger from the way we played the first half,” Soma said. “We were able to do a lot of things that we set out to do. In the second half our legs stopped a little.
“We had some difficult moments, but the crowd helped us get there in the end.”
Elsewhere in the J. League, promoted Ventforet Kofu pulled off an unlikely upset with a 3-1 home win over champions Nagoya Grampus, while Urawa Reds’ frustrating start to the season continued with a 1-1 draw with Cerezo Osaka. Gamba Osaka beat Avispa Fukuoka in the day’s other match, coming back from a goal down to win 3-2 and leave Avispa pointless after six games.
Kagawa returns for finale
Shinji Kagawa made his long-awaited return from injury Saturday, coming on as a late substitute in Borussia Dortmund’s final league game of the season.
The midfielder, who had a brilliant start to his debut Bundesliga campaign before breaking a metatarsal at the Asian Cup in January, replaced Jakub Blaszczykowski in the 88th minute of the newly crowned Bundesliga champions’ 3-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt.
The 22-year-old, reportedly back under the radar of Premier League winner Manchester United, took to the pitch to thunderous applause from home fans in a crowd of 80,000 and just missed a chance before Lucas Barrios completed a brace to seal victory and guarantee Frankfurt’s relegation.
Elsewhere, Kagawa’s Japan teammate Makoto Hasebe put in a full shift in an unfamiliar role at right back as Wolfsburg secured Bundesliga survival with a 3-1 win away to Hoffenheim, while Shinji Okazaki was on target again in Stuttgart’s 2-1 defeat at Bayern Munich.
“With all the hard games we have had one after another it has been mentally draining this season,” said Hasebe, who won the Bundesliga title with Wolfsburg two seasons ago.
Wolfsburg coach Felix Magath had promised some changes based on impressions made in training during the week and midfielder Hasebe said he wasn’t surprised at starting in defense.