KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kashima Antlers swept past Nagoya Grampus 3-1 in the J. League on Saturday in the presence of the club’s legendary architect Zico.
Yasushi Endo, Atsutaka Nakamura and Yuya Osako scored for Antlers, who are in fourth after seizing the matchup that helped launch the league 20 years ago. Kashima also won back then, behind Zico’s hat trick and a brace from Alcindo in a 5-0 onslaught.
“I don’t think anyone else at 40 has scored a hat trick in any first division around the world,” said Zico, who is back in Japan for the league’s anniversary festivities this week. “I think that hat trick was important to the club as well as the entire league at the time.
“The supporters are just as passionate as they were 20 years ago. The most important thing is Antlers won when I was here.”
Yoshizumi Ogawa drew first blood midway through the opening half for Grampus, who have lost five of their last six and have just 12 points from 12 games.
Nagoya boss Dragan Stojkovic said his team, which is only three years removed from the championship, must turn things around fast or face relegation.
“It’s a difficult situation, of course,” Stojkovic said. “You don’t need too much intelligence to understand that. We are very close to J2. This is how you go to J2: by losing every game and J2 will be waiting for you. This is the reality. But it’s not tragedy — nobody will die.
“(We have) no determination, no player who is able to score. Osako is a high-level player. He controls, he shoots, he keeps the ball, does everything. We don’t have this player. Psychologically, we are not good enough. I accept all the responsibility. I accept all the criticism from the supporters. We play with the best team. But the quality is a big question mark.”
Former Zico fledgling Masashi Motoyama got the nod to start in place of Davi, who was banned after being booked last weekend against Urawa Reds for profusely protesting Shinzo Koroki’s blatantly offside winner in Reds’ 3-1 victory.
Fired up by Zico’s return to the shores of Ibaraki, Antlers came out roaring and had Grampus buried in their own half early on, but it was the visitors who opened the scoring against the run of play.
Kashima was caught out in the 24th minute and after Jungo Fujimoto crossed from the right for the far post, Ogawa beat Hitoshi Sogahata with a volley into the back of the net.
Ogawa’s third goal of the season turned the tide for Nagoya, which began pushing up in search of a second. But Grampus conceded to a counterattack after 40 minutes, when Endo restored parity to kill off Nagoya’s momentum before the break.
Nakamura replaced Motoyama three minutes past the hour, and four minutes later with Gaku Shibasaki’s assistance, the 22-year-old midfielder put Antlers up for good with his second career goal.
Grampus never threatened before Osako hammered the nail in the coffin with a 94th-minute strike, his fourth of the campaign.
Elsewhere in J1, leaders Omiya Ardija bounced back with a 2-1 home win over Shonan Bellmare, after their record unbeaten run came to an end last week at 21 games.
Ardija, on 29 points, own a five-point lead over Yokohama F. Marinos, who were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Vegalta Sendai, and Urawa Reds trail in third another point back after smashing Sagan Tosu 6-2 at home.
Champions Sanfrecce thrashed Ventforet Kofu 5-1 in Hiroshima thanks to a hat trick by last year’s MVP and top scorer Hisato Sato, while Cerezo Osaka came from behind to beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 away, with Yoichiro Kakitani netting twice.
Jubilo Iwata lost 4-2 at home to Kawasaki Frontale, and Oita Trinita finally produced their first win of the year with a 3-2 victory over Albirex Niigata as Kohei Tokita struck in the 97th minute.
FC Tokyo defeated Shimizu S-Pulse 2-0.
Zico warns Japan
Former national team coach Zico credits Japan for the huge strides it has taken since the launch of the J. League in 1993.
But he isn’t giving it much of a chance against Brazil at next month’s Confederations Cup.
“Sure, Japan are improving and they are gaining,” Zico said Saturday at Kashima Stadium, where he was the guest of honor as part of the J. League’s weeklong celebrations of its 20th anniversary.
“But when Japan play the Central and South American teams, they need to think long and hard about how to approach them.”
Japan has never beaten Brazil in nine meetings at the full international level, with the five-time world champions winning seven times behind 24 goals scored with four against.
The two teams will meet in Brasilia on June 15 in the opening match of the Confederations Cup. They last met in a friendly in October, when Brazil thrashed the Asian champions 4-0.
Zico managed Japan for the four years leading up to the 2006 World Cup, where his team was eliminated in the first round that included a 4-1 loss to Brazil.
The former Flamengo star said while Japan is playing better against European opponents, it must perform with more guile and savvy against Latin American teams.
“I think if you look at the numbers, Japan are producing better results against European sides but they still tend to struggle against Central and South American teams — especially Brazil and Argentina,” he said.
“The tactics must be reevaluated, and I believe there is still plenty to be learned by Japan.”
Zico, though, paid kudos to the J. League’s development system, which has become the envy of leagues around the world.
“The Japanese market is drawing a lot of attention all over the world now,” he said. “Players who are being developed in Japan are in demand.
“But with more and more players heading to Europe, that creates a vacuum in Japan which the clubs must make sure to fill so there is no hollowing out of talent.”