TOSU, SAGA PREF. – J. League leaders Kashima Antlers crashed to their first defeat in six league matches on Saturday as the reigning champions went down 1-0 away to Sagan Tosu.
Kashima came into the match on a five-game winning streak but was second best throughout most of the contest and was sunk by Akito Fukuta’s 80th-minute header at Best Amenity Stadium.
“Tosu put us on the back foot with aggressive soccer from the front and it is a disappointing result,” said Kashima manager Go Oiwa. “We will have to prepare as best we can to try and bounce back from this in our next game.”
With six games left, Kashima stayed on 61 points, while Kawasaki Frontale narrowed Antlers’ lead to five as Elsinho scored twice in a 5-1 win at home to Cerezo Osaka.
Kashiwa Reysol, however, failed to capitalize on Kashima’s slip-up and are eight points back after a 1-0 defeat at home to Ventforet Kofu, Dudu scoring the only goal of the game late with a fabulous solo effort.
Tosu had the lion’s share of chances in the first half, and Yuji Ono missed a good opportunity when he drove wide in the 15th minute.
Riki Harakawa came closest to breaking the deadlock for the home side just after the half-hour mark, his long-range effort rattling the crossbar.
Brazilian midfielder Leandro miscued following a neat Kashima move in the 72nd minute and Tosu finally opened the scoring when Fukuta glanced home a cross from Kyosuke Tagawa.
“I’ve proved that even small guys can score with headers,” said the 170-cm Fukuta. “The most important thing is that we won the game, regardless of who our opponents were.”
Colombian striker Victor Ibarbo should have killed the game off for Tosu in stoppage time, when he broke clean through but saw his effort well saved by Hitoshi Sogahata.
But Fukuta’s goal turned out to be good enough to give Massimo Ficcadenti’s side maximum points.
“We outplayed a strong team that have pretty much already won the title. It was a fantastic performance,” said Ficcadenti, whose side is unbeaten in its last three games.
In other games, former Germany striker Lukas Podolski was on target as Vissel Kobe won 2-0 at Albirex Niigata.
FC Tokyo and visiting Jubilo Iwata played out a 0-0 draw, while Omiya Ardija’s game at home to Shimizu S-Pulse also finished goalless.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Consadole Sapporo finished 1-1 at the Big Arch and Keita Endo’s late strike earned Yokohama F. Marinos a 2-1 win at Gamba Osaka.