KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – The Kashima Antlers strengthened their title bid by beating Urawa Reds 1-0 on Friday, with Serginho poaching the winner shortly after entering as a second-half substitute.
The grudge match at Kashima Stadium saw the two longtime rivals and recent Asian Champions League winners do battle amid vastly different fortunes in the first division.
Reigning Asian champion Kashima was looking to solidify its J1 lead after coming into the match with only goal difference separating it from second-place FC Tokyo, with Yokohama F. Marinos lurking just one point back.
The Reds, meanwhile, were aiming to move further from the relegation zone while navigating a grueling stretch of the calendar including the upcoming two-leg ACL final, in which they will shoot for their second continental crown in three years against Saudi side Al-Hilal.
With the match coming three days after Urawa’s 1-1 draw away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, manager Tsuyoshi Otsuki opted to bench star attacker Shinzo Koroki, while starting Haruki Fukushima ahead of first-choice goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
Having been forced onto the back foot early, the Reds began asserting themselves later in the first half and went into the break roughly level on possession, with four shots on target to Kashima’s six.
Shoma Doi went close for Kashima in the 12th minute, chasing down a long ball from Kento Misao and forcing a save from Fukushima with a volley from just inside the area.
Antlers wingback Koki Machida wasted a good chance shortly afterward, rising to meet a cross from Ryohei Shirasaki directly in front but sending his header wide of the mark.
Yosuke Kashiwagi had an opportunity to put Urawa ahead in the 30th minute with a free kick from outside the area, but his attempt flew over the bar.
While possession remained evenly split in the second half, Urawa was unable to put an attempt on target after the break.
With Leo Silva leading the charge, Go Oiwa’s men made the breakthrough in the 72nd minute after laying siege to the Urawa area with a succession of balls from either side.
Following a frantic scramble inside the box, Fukushima parried a low strike from Doi into the path of the lurking Serginho, who blasted his close-range shot into the roof of the net.
The match descended into farce in the 84th minute when Otsuki was ejected for pushing over Ryota Nagaki shortly after the Antlers defender threw Reds midfielder Ewerton to the turf, sparking a brief shoving match between players from both teams.