KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. - Kashima Antlers closed in on a record-extending ninth J. League championship title with a 1-0 win at home to Asian Champions League finalist Urawa Reds on Sunday.
Brazilian midfielder Leandro settled the contest late in the second half as the defending champions opened up a seven-point lead over Kawasaki Frontale at the top of the table. Kashima improved to 70 points with two games left and can clinch the title if Kawasaki (63) loses its game in hand against Gamba Osaka on Nov. 18.
Kashima’s game against Urawa was moved forward from Nov. 18 to Sunday due to Reds’ ACL final first-leg match away to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal on that date.
“We played well over the course of the game so I was delighted when Leandro scored,” said Kashima manager Go Oiwa. “The players were thorough in what they set out to do today.”
Oiwa did not touch upon the Kawasaki game, preferring to focus on his own team.
“We have two more games left and we will just try and prepare ourselves properly for our next one against Kashiwa Reysol (on Nov. 26),” he said. “It is our last game at home and hopefully we will get a good turnout from the fans.”
Kashima was the better side in a game of few clear chances. Yasushi Endo hit the post in the first half and Shoma Doi also went close after the interval before the home side finally made the breakthrough 10 minutes from time.
Daigo Nishi whipped in a pinpoint cross from the right flank and Leandro was perfectly positioned at the back post to clip the ball through the legs of Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
“It was a team goal and a team victory. The goal was the fruit of our efforts,” said Leandro.
“Nishi controlled the ball and gave the impression he was going to cross so I didn’t hesitate to run to the far post. I was able to keep a cool head and score.
“We will take a rest now and then focus fully on what we have to do. I don’t know what will happen in the Frontale game and just want to get ready for our next match.”