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Frontale, Antlers to meet in high-pressure playoff semifinal

Kyodo

Kawasaki Frontale only need a draw in Wednesday’s semifinal of the J. League championship playoff against Kashima Antlers to advance, but victory is all they will be playing for, firebrand striker Yoshito Okubo said.

“You can’t win if you play with a draw on your mind,” Okubo said on Tuesday after training for the one-off at Todoroki Stadium, where a sellout crowd will be behind Yahiro Kazama’s men. “We’ll come out firing.”

Kawasaki was second on the overall table with 72 points behind Urawa Reds (74), who await the winner of Wednesday’s game in the home-and-away final on Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. Kashima won the first stage, but finished the regular season third with 59 points.

Frontale’s higher standing gives them the home advantage and needing just a draw against Antlers to reach the final. There will be no extra time.

In the club’s 20th season since its founding, Kawasaki hope to finally win its first-ever piece of silverware as a farewell gift to both Okubo and Kazama, who will move on at year’s end. Okubo is transferring to FC Tokyo, while Kazama is set to take over at relegated Nagoya Grampus.

Frontale drew at home and won away against Antlers this season, but must face the seven-time league champions without Japan international Yu Kobayashi, who limped off the pitch in the 1-0 victory over Kashima on Oct. 29.

Kobayashi, who led his team alongside Okubo with 15 goals and may return in time for the final, could also leave Kawasaki this winter with several clubs in hot pursuit of his services.

Captain Kengo Nakamura and Rio Olympic midfielder Ryota Oshima are set to return from injuries on Wednesday, but their fitness will be in question.

Kazama, though, is not about to change his approach even for Kawasaki’s biggest game of the year.

“We will go out there and stay loose, have some fun,” he said. “It’s a given that we win it. How we win is the question.”