KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – Kawasaki Frontale clung to the slimmest hopes of a third straight J. League crown Saturday, handing the Kashima Antlers a 2-0 defeat that dented the eight-time champions’ own title aspirations.
Former Antlers defender Kazuya Yamamura and Tatsuya Hasegawa scored against the momentum in the second half at Kashima Stadium to secure the crucial victory and drag Kashima from the top spot down to third.
FC Tokyo returned to the top of the table following a 1-0 win at Jubilo Iwata, while Yokohama F. Marinos climbed one place to second after beating Consadole Sapporo 4-2.
With two games remaining, fourth-place Frontale still hold faint title hopes with 57 points, two behind the Antlers. FC Tokyo sits on 62 points, one clear of Marinos, but all three teams ahead of Frontale have an additional game in hand.
The Antlers controlled the flow of the game in the first half, restricting Frontale to a handful of counterattacking opportunities, but neither side produced a shot on target before the break.
With its supporters in full voice, Kashima ramped up the pressure late in the half, keeping possession as it sought to pick apart the Frontale defense.
The Antlers missed a chance to take a lead into halftime when Sho Ito shot wide from just inside the area, having won the ball in sight of goal after Ryota Oshima failed to control a poorly directed pass from Shogo Taniguchi.
Frontale narrowly avoided conceding a minute before the break when Yamamura headed onto his own post as he sought to stop Ito connecting with a ball into the box from Leo Silva.
Go Oiwa’s side picked up where it left off early in the second half and was only prevented from taking the lead when Shintaro Kurumaya cleared off the line as Serghino looked to tap in off a short pass from Shoma Doi.
But after withstanding the pressure, Toru Oniki’s men took the lead in the 62nd minute when Yamamura strode into the middle of the area unmarked to head in Akihiro Ienaga’s free kick from the right.
The goal appeared to provide a boost of energy to Frontale, who unleashed a succession of attacks with striker Yu Kobayashi leading the charge.
The inspirational captain was in the thick of the action on Frontale’s second goal nine minutes later, sprinting onto a ball over the top from Hidemasa Morita and slamming a shot into the post, allowing Hasegawa to tap in the rebound.
At Iwata’s Yamaha Stadium, Diego Oliveira scored the only goal of the game in the 53rd minute to move FC Tokyo back into pole position in its pursuit of a first-ever J. League championship.
At Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium, Erik scored twice in the first four minutes to get Marinos off to a flying start against Consadole. Japan forward Musashi Suzuki struck a goal in each half for the visitors.
Nagoya Grampus took a big step toward avoiding relegation, beating Vissel Kobe 3-0 at Toyota Stadium following a brace from Naoki Maeda. Shonan Bellmare, however, remained in 16th place and in danger of a drop to J2 after a 1-0 loss at Cerezo Osaka.