KOFU – Mu Kanazaki struck in the second half as Kashima Antlers bounced back from last weekend’s defeat to Gamba Osaka with a 1-0 win away to Ventforet Kofu in the J. League first division on Saturday.
Kanazaki scored the clincher with a well-taken header in the 61st minute and it was only a combination of the woodwork and fine goalkeeping from Kohei Kawata that prevented the seven-time league champions from winning by a much bigger margin.
“It was a lame performance at home (to Gamba). We were away today but wanted to make sure that we got three points and I am glad we were able to achieve that,” Kanazaki said.
“We didn’t play that well today we are still glad to take the win,” added the midfielder, who has scored seven league goals since joining Kashima in February on a season-long loan deal from Portuguese second-tier side Portimonense.
Kashima (25 points) stayed in second place but trails Sanfrecce Hiroshima only on goal difference after Sanfrecce were held 0-0 at home to Sagan Tosu.
Kashima dominated from the kickoff at Yamanashi Chuo Bank Stadium and Yasushi Endo hit the post in the 26th minute before Kanazaki had an effort well stopped by Kawata.
Kawata pulled out another top-drawer save to deny Shuto Yamamoto and Kashima hit the woodwork again a minute before the interval, Caio striking the right post when he looked certain to score.
Making his return after missing the Gamba defeat through suspension, Japan midfielder Gaku Shibasaki nearly broke the deadlock on the hour mark.
His free kick was brilliantly kept out by Kawata and Kanazaki snapped up the loose ball, only to see his effort cleared off the line by Hideomi Yamamoto.
But Kanazaki was not to be denied a third time and put his side in front seconds later.
Endo took a return pass from his throw-in to Daigo Nishi and whipped in a cross for Kanazaki to direct his header inside the far post.
“It was a fantastic ball in from Yasu (Endo) and it was just a case of getting on the end of it,” Kanazaki said.
Caio saw his shot fly just wide of the right-hand post as Kashima continued to press and Yuma Suzuki also shot narrowly off target in the dying seconds.
In other games, Yoshito Okubo bagged a hat trick and moved to the stop of the scoring charts with 19 goals as Kawasaki Frontale hammered Nagoya Grampus 6-1 at home. First-stage champion Urawa Reds were the day’s other big winners, Yosuke Kashiwagi sealing a 4-1 thrashing of Shimizu S-Pulse at Ecopa Stadium. Reds lead the overall standings on 61 points.
Cayman Togashi’s late strike saw Yokohama F. Marinos edge FC Tokyo 1-0 at home, and Albirex Niigata won 2-1 at Vissel Kobe, courtesy of an 85th-minute strike from Kosuke Yamamoto. A second-half equalizer from Yoshihito Fujita earned Shonan Bellmare a 1-1 draw at Vegalta Sendai.
In Sunday’s games, Asian Champions League semifinalists and last season’s domestic treble winners Gamba Osaka are away to Matsumoto Yamaga and Kashiwa Reysol host bottom club Montedio Yamagata.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5