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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Antlers trounce Gamba Osaka in curtain-raiser

Staff writer

Kashima Antlers sent out a warning to those who covet their J. League crown with a 3-0 thrashing of Gamba Osaka in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup on Saturday.

News photo
Exciting moment: Kashima Antlers forward Shinzo Koroki celebrates his seventh-minute goal against Gamba Osaka in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup on Saturday at National Stadium. Kashima won 3-0. KYODO PHOTO

Shinzo Koroki opened the scoring with an acrobatic strike in the seventh minute, before Marquinhos doubled Kashima's lead less than 10 minutes later after getting the better of a Gamba defense in absolute disarray.

Takuya Nozawa added another five minutes before halftime, leaving Antlers with a second-half procession in the traditional season curtain-raiser between J. League and Emperor's Cup champions at National Stadium.

Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira was happy with the performance, but immediately switched his attention toward next week's league opener at home to Urawa Reds.

"We played effectively and it was a superb start, but the season is long and Gamba were not at their best," he said.

"We controlled the match to the finish, but next week we have Urawa Reds, and they have been one of the leading teams in Japanese football in recent years. They have great ability, and we are preparing very seriously for this opponent."

After losing last season's Super Cup in controversial circumstances, Oliveira also allowed himself a measure of satisfaction at finally claiming the trophy.

"Last year everyone could see that the best team didn't raise the cup, so today I feel especially happy because we confirmed what we knew last year," he said.

Gamba manager Akira Nishino, meanwhile, placed the blame on his own players.

"It was a match with a title at stake, and the problem was not so much the players' condition but their approach to the game," he said.

News photo
Stellar strike: Kashima Antlers forward Shinzo Koroki (13) scores a seventh-minute goal against Gamba Osaka on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

"We needed to raise the motivation for this match and we didn't manage to do that, even though we knew it was important."

Gamba began the match with an unfamiliar three-man defense in the absence of regular right back Akira Kaji, but reverted to a flat back four after the first-half mauling. Nishino admitted his side is far from ready to begin the new season.

"We changed the system during the game because that is where we are at the moment," he said. "We are still searching."

Koroki pounced after only seven minutes when Daiki Iwamasa got his head to a Nozawa corner, nudging the ball on for the striker to volley into the back of the net.

The goal underlined Antlers' superiority, and in the 15th minute Marquinhos embellished the point. Challenging for a cross with Hideo Hashimoto and Kazumichi Takagi, the Brazilian somehow managed to come away with the ball and needed only to slot it past Yosuke Fujigaya for Kashima's second.

Masato Yamazaki and Hashimoto mustered shots as Gamba attempted to haul itself back into the game, but it took a last-ditch tackle by Takagi to stop Koroki from making it three at the other end.

But that was just delaying the inevitable, and five minutes before the break Koroki sent in a low cross that Nozawa had little trouble turning past Fujigaya into the net.

Substitute Hayato Sasaki came off the bench to make an impact for Gamba, and a foul on the 26-year-old allowed Satoshi Yamaguchi to aim a header at goal that Hitoshi Sogahata kept out with a point-blank parry.

Shinichi Terada also drew a save from the Antlers 'keeper as the game entered the final 10 minutes, but a Gamba breakthrough never looked likely as Kashima's championship class shone through, and Oliveira's men issued an ominous statement of intent for the coming season.

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