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Saturday, March 8, 2008

J. LEAGUE 2008


Kashima Antlers

Staff writer

Last season: first

No one, least of all the Kashima players themselves, could have expected winning the double last season, but it remains to be seen whether that was the shape of things to come or just the fruit of an exceptional one-off winning run.

Antlers racked up a club record nine straight league wins on the way to snatching the J. League title from Urawa Reds on the final day, but a wretched start to the season put the club on the back foot all year.

That can in part be explained by the departure, and subsequent return, of Mitsuo Ogasawara from Italy, and it can only be an advantage that the captain begins the new season with his overseas aspirations out of his system.

Coach Oswaldo Oliveira has not been too busy in the transfer market, and with fullback Atsuto Uchida and striker Yuzo Tashiro making their international debuts during the offseason, the existing squad looks stronger than it was this time last year.

FC Tokyo utility man Masahiko Inoha looks to be an excellent addition, and more can be expected of last season's Brazilian buy, Danilo.

Striker Atsushi Yanagisawa has left the club for a second time, but the veteran was becoming an increasingly peripheral figure after the emergence of Tashiro and may not be missed too much.

An assault on the Asian Champions League may stretch Oliveira's resources, however, and competing on two fronts could well affect Kashima as badly as it did Reds last season.

Antlers should be in the title shakeup, but may not have the stamina to make a repeat of last season's heroics.

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