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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Oliveira confident despite loss to Reds


Staff writer

SAITAMA — Kashima Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira shrugged off the end of his side's record winning run Sunday, insisting the champions remain the team to beat for the J. League title.

Urawa Reds put the brakes on Kashima's 14-game streak of victories in league matches, as Yuichiro Nagai grabbed a goal in the 50th minute before adding a second in injury time to give resurgent Urawa a 2-0 win at Saitama Stadium.

But Oliveira remained philosophical in defeat, issuing a reminder to his championship rivals that Kashima is still wearing the crown.

"We are still playing as the champions, and this is something that makes me very optimistic for the future," he said.

"One day you have to lose. In the circumstances of today we lost the game but we still go on and we will try again.

"The players are very sad, but this is natural. They fought and played to win, so in a few days they will get over it."

Urawa manager Gert Engels was satisfied with the way his team passed another test on the way to rehabilitation after losing its first two games of the season.

Reds faced down wave after wave of Kashima attacks after taking the lead on Sunday, but held on to claim their fourth win in a row and third place in the table.

"It is a great win," Engels said. "It was a big game for both teams, and not many teams other than Antlers could have pushed us so far back in defense, but we always came back at them."

Nagai came off the bench to replace Naohiro Takahara at halftime after another lackluster performance from Urawa's star signing, and Engels confirmed the switch had nothing to do with the national team striker's fitness.

"It was tactical," he said. "It was to keep a better balance than the first half, and his (Nagai) first goal came at a great time."

A meeting of Japan's fiercest rivals in front of a hostile crowd of 54,450 was always going to be intense, and the Antlers fans made their feelings plain before kickoff by hoisting giant letters describing their feelings toward their hosts in no uncertain terms.

Engels claimed not to see the message, but admitted it was "not classy" when informed of its contents.

The intensity on the pitch matched the atmosphere in the stands, but the halftime interval broke up the tight tactical chess match.

Just minutes after the restart, Tulio found himself in acres of space to slide the ball across for Nagai to pounce for the opening goal.

Suddenly Antlers found themselves trailing for the first time this season, and laid siege to Urawa's goal.

Goalkeeper Ryota Tsuzuki pulled off a series of saves as Urawa's defense kept its cool, before a mistake from Go Oiwa allowed Nagai to set the seal on a massive win for Reds.



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