• Kyodo

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Japan striker Takashi Usami scored his 17th and 18th goals of the season to fire Gamba Osaka to a 2-1 win away to high-flying Kashima Antlers in the J. League second stage on Saturday.

Usami struck twice in the space of 10 second-half minutes and Gamba held on for maximum points after substitute Yuma Suzuki scored in the last minute for Antlers.

“It was a big test to see whether or not we could climb higher in the table and that we were able to tough out the win is massive for us,” said Usami.

The result saw Kashima (22 points) drop to second in the second-stage standings after 10 games, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima (24) going top after Takuma Asano sealed a 3-1 win at Montedio Yamagata. Gamba has 18 points and sits in fifth place.

In a lively opening to the game, Kashima nearly went in front with less than two minutes on the clock, with Gamba defender Koki Yonekura’s attempted clearance from Mu Kanazaki’s cross coming back off the crossbar.

Kanazaki then fizzed a shot just over the crossbar but Usami fired Gamba in front on 29 minutes, taking a return pass from Patric and surging forward before burying the ball into the bottom left-hand corner for his first goal in five league outings.

Patric was also the architect for the second as Gamba doubled its lead six minutes before halftime.

The burly Brazilian collected an errant pass, picked out Usami on the right and after weaving his way into the box, the former Bayern Munich man shot from the tightest of angles and the ball clipped off Takeshi Aoki to beat Kashima ‘keeper Hitoshi Sogahata at his near post.

“I hadn’t scored for a while and it was just a case of waiting for goals to come. I got two today and one of them was a nice goal and the other one I had a bit of luck with. I am just pleased that they contributed to the team winning,” Usami said.

Patric nearly finished Kashima off with 11 minutes left but Sogahata parried his shot and Hiroki Fujihara headed the loose ball wide.

Nineteen-year-old Suzuki flashed a header wide and although he managed to pull one back for Kashima when he headed in Kanazaki’s cross, it proved too little, too late for the hosts.

In other matches, Yoshito Okubo put Kawasaki Frontale on the way to a 3-1 win at Ventforet Kofu, Hiroki Okuno’s late goal gave Vegalta Sendai a 1-0 triumph at Nagoya Grampus and former Japan striker Ryoichi Maeda scored a hat trick in FC Tokyo’s 3-0 victory at home to Vissel Kobe.

Shonan Bellmare shared a 1-1 draw with Matsumoto Yamaga in Hiratsuka, while Albriex Niigata and Yokohama F. Marinos drew 1-1 at Big Swan and Sagan Tosu were held 0-0 at home to Shimizu S-Pulse.

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