KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. - Kashima Antlers’ title celebrations were put on hold on Sunday as the J. League leaders were held to a 0-0 draw at home against Kashiwa Reysol.
A win for Antlers would have secured a record-extending ninth J. League championship with one game remaining. But despite creating a raft of chances, they were unable to find a way past Reysol goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura, who produced a string of fine saves to earn the visitors a point.
Kashima is five points clear of second-placed Kawasaki Frontale, who must now beat newly crowned Asian club champions Urawa Reds away on Wednesday to keep their own title hopes alive.
“We were able to attack well but weren’t decisive enough in the final third and that is disappointing,” said Kashima boss Go Oiwa, whose team wraps up the season away to his former club Jubilo Iwata next Saturday.
“We need more precision in attack and defense, but I think we put on a decent performance today and we just need to keep that up.”
Reysol made a lively start and Antlers defender Shuto Yamamoto was forced to hack clear after Diego Oliveira sent a ball into the danger zone after a probing seventh-minute run.
But it was Antlers that went closest to scoring in a first half that produced few highlights, Leandro’s 18th-minute shot drawing an acrobatic save from Nakamura.
Reysol had another opportunity in the 32nd, but Junya Ito was unable to finish off his run, goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata getting down to save with his feet.
Nakamura did well to deny Leo Silva 10 minutes into the second half as Kashima pressed for an opener and then kept out a volley at the back post from Yasushi Endo.
Kashima defender Gen Shoji headed against the crossbar just before the hour mark, and Nakamura was again at full stretch to once more thwart Leandro.
“It’s a shame we weren’t able to wrap up the title in our last home game of the season but we just have to crack on and get ready for our next game,” said Sogahata.
At the other end of the table, Omiya Ardija were relegated and join bottom club Albirex Niigata in the second tier next season after a 0-0 draw at home to fellow strugglers Ventforet Kofu.
Kofu is third from bottom with 29 points, two behind Shimizu S-Pulse, who were beaten 3-2 at home to Niigata, Noriyoshi Sakai snatching the winner for the Swans in the 89th minute.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima escaped the drop, Sho Inagaki’s 66th-minute effort earning a 2-1 win at home to FC Tokyo, who handed 16-year-old prodigy Takefusa Kubo his J1 debut midway through the second half, making him the third youngest player to play in the top flight.
In other games it was: Vegalta Sendai 2, Yokohama F. Marinos 2; Gamba Osaka 0, Consadole Sapporo 1; Cerezo Osaka 3, Vissel Kobe 1; Sagan Tosu 0, Jubilo Iwata 2.