KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. – Twenty-year-old defender Itsuki Oda scored the first goal of his professional career as Kashima Antlers beat visiting Cerezo Osaka 1-0 in the J. League on Wednesday night.
In an end-to-end clash between two teams angling for a berth in next year’s Asian Champions League, it was the largely second-string Antlers who grabbed the points to move up to third place.
With his team set to host Iranian club Persepolis in the first leg of the ACL final on Saturday, Kashima manager Go Oiwa benched a number of regular starters including top scorer Yuma Suzuki and right-back Daigo Nishi.
Slotting into Nishi’s normal position, Oda seized his chance to make a mark when he struck the winner from a corner kick seven minutes into the second half.
After shaking free of his marker, the youngster met Ryota Nagaki’s corner kick with a header at the corner of the six-yard box. Cerezo’s South Korean custodian Kim Jin-hyeon plucked the ball from the air, but the referee’s assistant immediately indicated it had crossed the line.
“Going in (for the corner kick), we were able to execute it just the way we planned. It went right where I was aiming,” said Oda, who was playing just his fifth J. League match.
“We proved we can win even with young players. It was really important that we played hard.”
“The older players really motivated me. We somehow got the win, and hopefully, we can keep it up.”
Kenyu Sugimoto nearly gave Cerezo the lead in the 17th minute when he rattled the post from the edge of the box with a shot that curled past Kashima keeper Kwoun Sun-tae.
The visitors, who finished the first half with a shade under 60 percent of possession, created a handful of chances in a period of sustained pressure just before the interval.
After making a break down the left, Toshiyuki Takagi pulled a cross back to Yoichiro Kakitani, whose shot was deflected onto the post and out for a corner by Kwoun.
Two minutes before halftime, Brazilian playmaker Souza lofted a cross from the left to Yusuke Tanaka at the opposite post, but the right-back headed over the bar.
Kim stopped Antlers doubling the lead from a counterattack in the 76th minute when he rushed off his line to block Kazuma Yamaguchi’s shot with his body.
Kwoun protected Kashima’s lead on the stroke of 80 minutes, parrying the ball over the bar after Sugimoto got his head to a long free kick from Souza.
Kim foiled Yamaguchi again with eight minutes left after the Kashima midfielder intercepted the ball inside halfway and sprinted into a one-on-one situation with the keeper.
Kakitani fired from just inside the box after latching onto a through ball in the 85th minute but Kwoun was quickly off his line to smother the attempt.
The win was the first in three league matches for Antlers, who now turn their attention to the clash at Kashima Stadium against Persepolis. The Tehran club, like Antlers, will be making their first appearance in an ACL final.
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