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Friday, May 4, 2007

Oliveira's Antlers begin to find form


Staff writer

If there is one thing to be said about Kashima Antlers so far this season it is that they have been consistently inconsistent. But an impressive come-from-behind 2-1 victory away to FC Tokyo on Thursday showed what they are capable of when they have the bit between their teeth — and it gave a glimpse of brighter times ahead for coach Osvaldo Oliveira and his players.

Kashima's winner came with seven minutes remaining when Marquinhos lofted a perfect cross from the right of the area for substitute Chikashi Masuda to direct a firm header past FC Tokyo 'keeper Hitoshi Shiota. It was a deserved winner for the more adventurous side of a second half that had started so promisingly for the hosts.

After a pretty dismal first half, Paulo Wanchope's headed goal on 58 minutes was the culmination of a classy little move that gave the home side hope. Lucas picked up the ball on the edge of the area, exchanged a one-two with Ryoichi Kurisawa and chipped the ball to the far post where the Costa Rican striker was waiting to score his first league goal of the season.

The FC Tokyo faithful were mid-celebration, however, when Kashima equalized on the hour mark. The home side failed dismally to deal with a corner kick, the ball cleared only to the edge of the area where a loitering Masaki Chugo smashed it back past the unsighted Shiota.

That was the cue for a sustained Antlers onslaught, the hosts not helped by the substitution of the effective Wanchope with 20 minutes left and an ineffective 300th league appearance for Takashi Fukunishi.

"The two big men up front (Wanchope and Lucas) are very dangerous players for FC Tokyo," Oliveira said. "Wanchope is a very good player, it was luck (that he came off)."

The victory means Antlers' record this season is frustratingly symmetrical after nine matches: three wins, draws and losses for a total of 12 points that has them still bumbling around mid-table — although not as severely as FC Tokyo, four points worse off.

Whatever roused a bumper holiday crowd of 30,436 to turn up at Ajinomoto Stadium, it certainly wasn't the promise of goals. These two teams had scored a woeful 13 between them up to Thursday and two of FC Tokyo's last three matches had finished as scoreless draws. Only the bottom two clubs, Omiya Ardija and Yokohama FC, had scored less this season.

Not the sort of statistics to get the pulse racing, and the opening exchanges certainly didn't dispel the fear the game would be lacking in excitement somewhat. The closest chance of the first period came around the half hour mark when, with scant warning, Kashima's Takuya Nozawa lashed in a strike from the 30 meters that crashed off the underside of Shiota's bar but landed the wrong side of the line.

FC Tokyo wasn't really at the races in the first half, but came out in the second looking the team the most likely — at least for the first 15 minutes. But after Wanchope scored the so-called Gasmen ran out of the stuff and Kashima came roaring back.

FC Tokyo coach Hiromi Hara defended his decision to haul of Wanchope: "My midfielders started to get tired relatively early. Because Wanchope seemed to be tired I put in (Yuta) Baba. And I think Baba should have gone in earlier."

Oliveira welcomed match-winner Masuda's contribution.

"The opposition made substitutions for their midfield probably because they seemed like they were getting tired and that's part of the reason why we put in Masuda," said Oliveira, who brought ex-Sao Paulo star Danilo off for the 21-year-old. "Masuda still needs to have a lot more experience and learn to settle down, but his endurance is good and I know that he will get better, but I am very satisfied by the way that he played for us."

Elsewhere, a mammoth crowd of 57,440 watched Urawa Reds draw 1-1 against JEF United Chiba at Saitama Stadium. Urawa striker Washington scored his sixth of the league season on 28 minutes before Hiroki Mizumoto equalized five minutes after the break. At the beginning of the second half, JEF had Daisuke Saito sent off after a second booking.

Urawa sits in second place two points behind leader Gamba. The Osakans have 20 points after drawing 2-2 at Vissel Kobe, Bare scoring a 65th equalizer in a game where Gamba was always on the back foot after striker Magno Alves was sent off on nine minutes.



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