KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kashima Antlers boss Go Oiwa has sought to play down the pressure on his team ahead of Saturday’s potential J. League championship title clincher away to his former club Jubilo Iwata.
With the defending champion Antlers two points clear of Kawasaki Frontale, a win against Iwata in the season’s final round will secure the Ibaraki club a record-extending ninth league title.
Kawasaki, however, boasts a vastly superior goal difference and a win for Toru Oniki’s men at home to already relegated Omiya Ardija coupled with a draw or defeat for Kashima would see them clinch their long-awaited first major domestic trophy.
Speaking after training on Friday, former defender Oiwa, who was part of Iwata’s title-winning team in 2002 before moving to Kashima the following season, said, “It is a massive game tomorrow but at the same time it also just another match.
“This group of players has come through the good times and the bad times and tomorrow will be the sum total of their efforts.
“We will just go for the win and keep fighting until the very last second, the same way we always do.”
Kashima missed a chance to clinch the title last weekend after being held to a goalless draw at home to Kashiwa Reysol.
In Iwata, the Antlers face a team boasting the stingiest defense in the top flight with 30 goals conceded in 33 games this season.
“It is down to our attackers to break down (Jubilo’s) wall,” said Kashima striker Shoma Doi.
League Cup runner-up Kawasaki capitalized on Kashima’s failure to beat Kashiwa and kept alive its title hopes with a gritty 1-0 win away to the newly crowned Asian club champion Urawa Reds on Wednesday.
Despite going into Saturday’s meeting with Omiya on only two days’ rest, Frontale’s talismanic 37-year-old midfielder Kengo Nakamura believes his side’s mental fortitude can see them through.
“There are times when mental toughness can pull you through physical fatigue, and if that is the case tomorrow, then we will be able to put on a good performance.”
Oniki said, “It is win or nothing for us tomorrow and we have to just focus on getting three points.”
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