KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kashima Antlers fell off the top of the J. League first division table after the champions lost 2-1 to Vissel Kobe on Sunday, while Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka both climbed above them by a point.
An own goal and Kazuma Watanabe’s header in the 14th minute forced Kashima into fighting an uphill battle. Antlers pulled one back late through Leandro, but despite five minutes of injury time, the Club World Cup finalists failed to take any points.
Kashima stands on 21 points from 11 games, while Urawa, on 22 points, grabbed six goals from five different scorers and an own goal in a 6-1 hammering away to Albirex Niigata. The home side had opened the scoring in the second minute through Musashi Suzuki but dropped to the bottom of the table.
Gamba Osaka moved level on points with Urawa to sit second when they won 2-0 at Consadole Sapporo in an evening fixture, Jungo Fujimoto scoring the opener with an exquisite looping finish.
Kashiwa Reysol beat FC Tokyo 2-1 away for their fifth successive win to move ahead of Kashima in third on goal difference.
The top eight teams are separated by only three points.
Kobe manager Nelsinho was pleased to see his side end a four-game winless drought to close within three points of first place.
“This was a crucial match for us, a real opportunity to close the gap with first place,” Nelsinho said. “To win here was important.
“We found the space we needed and managed to score early in the first half. We played with a lot of quality today.”
Nelsinho’s counterpart at Kashima, Masatada Ishii, said his team paid the price for a poor first half.
“Conceding twice in the first half really hurt,” Ishii said. “We just gave away the ball too much.”
The visitors went ahead in the 10th minute at Kashima Stadium, defender Daigo Nishi heading into his own net from a Yoshiki Matsushita free kick.
Watanabe doubled Vissel’s lead four minutes later, nodding in a Wataru Hashimoto cross from the left as the forward opened his season account.
Things got tougher in the second half for Antlers, who lost midfielder Leo Silva just after the hour. In the 79th minute, Koki Machida hit the bar for the hosts and Yuto Misao’s header from the rebound was cleared off the line by Nilton.
Leandro’s goal in the 89th minute made it 2-1, but Kobe held on for all three points.
In other J1 action, Kashiwa Reysol beat FC Tokyo 2-1 away for their fifth successive win to move ahead of Kashima on goal difference.
A double-double by Kenyu Sugimoto and Matej Jonjic paced Cerezo Osaka to a 5-2 victory at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima. Cerezo, Tokyo, Kobe, Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale, who defeated Jubilo 2-0 at Iwata, are all on 19 points.
Shimizu S-Pulse drew 1-1 at home to Sagan Tosu, and Yokohama F. Marinos edged Ventforet Kofu 1-0 thanks to a goal from Takashi Kanai in first-half injury time.
Omiya Ardija moved off the foot of the table after they came from behind to secure a 2-1 home win over Vegalta Sendai.