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Kanazaki strikes twice to help Kashima rise to top of J. League

Kyodo

Mu Kanazaki scored twice as reigning champions Kashima Antlers came from behind to beat Vissel Kobe 2-1 away and move top of the J. League first division on Wednesday night.

Kobe took the lead through Hirofumi Watanabe’s header early in the second half at Noevir Stadium, but two excellent strikes from Kanazaki turned it around as Kashima leapfrogged Cerezo Osaka into the top spot.

Kashima has 46 points, two clear of Cerezo with a game in hand. Cerezo squandered a two-goal lead and went down 3-2 away against Shimizu S-Pulse, who secured victory thanks to a brace from Koya Kitagawa.

“There is tiredness with the games coming one after another but it was a good performance,” said Kashima manager Go Oiwa, whose team is unbeaten in its last nine matches, winning eight of them.

“I have kept on saying this but it is all about continuing to battle and continuing to win. Now we must prepare for our next game on the weekend.”

Kobe’s new star signing Lukas Podolski had a couple of chances in a tightly contested first period, forcing Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata to push a dipping volley over the crossbar before deflecting the German World Cup winner’s effort from a tight angle onto the post in the 16th minute.

Sogahata’s Kobe counterpart Kim Seung-gyu was also kept on his toes, batting away Leo Silva’s free kick before using his legs to block an effort from Leandro.

Sogahata parried another Podolski shot before the ball was headed behind by Shuto Yamamoto, but Kobe took the lead from the resultant corner, when Watanabe headed in Naoyuki Fujita’s cross in the 49th minute.

However, Kashima hit back in the 69th, Kanazaki taking a layoff from Atsutaka Nakamura and burying his shot into the bottom right-hand corner.

Kanazaki then wrapped up the scoring with another clinical finish, sprinting onto a through ball from Leandro and rounding Kim before slotting home.

Yokohama F. Marinos (40 points) are in third place, with Takahiro Ogihara leading them to a 2-0 win at Consadole Sapporo, while Kawasaki Frontale are a further point back in fourth after winning by the same scoreline at last-place Albirex Niigata.

In other games, Urawa Reds edged Ventforet Kofu 1-0 away to register their first win under new boss Takafumi Hori, while a double from Anderson Lopes earned struggling Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 2-2 draw at home against Gamba Osaka.

Yoshito Okubo struck the winner as FC Tokyo edged Omiya Ardija 2-1 away.

The games between Kashiwa Reysol and Sagan Tosu, and Vegalta Sendai and Jubilo Iwata both finished goalless.