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Monday, May 25, 2009

Nakata notches winning goal against Gamba

SUITA, Osaka Pref. (Kyodo) A rare goal from former Japan international Koji Nakata gave high-flying Kashima Antlers a precious 1-0 win away to Asian club champion Gamba Osaka in the J. League first division on Sunday.

News photo
Battle for the ball: Gamba Osaka midfielder Lucas (left) tries to grab control of the ball from Kashima Antlers midfielder Takuya Nozawa during their J. League match on Sunday at Expo Stadium. Antlers won 1-0. KYODO PHOTO

Making his first start since last September, Nakata bundled in after 17 minutes and the reigning champions withstood sustained Gamba pressure in the second half to head into the monthlong international break with a four-point cushion at the top of the table.

Kashima has 29 points and a game in hand on second-placed Urawa Reds, who were held to a surprise 1-1 draw by Omiya Ardija in the Saitama derby, Hajime Hosogai canceling out Park Won Jae's ninth-minute opener for Ardija.

At Expo Stadium, Gamba started brightly with Takashi Usami going close early on, but Nakata gave the visitors the lead when he sneaked in behind Hideo Hashimoto at the back post to prod home Masashi Motoyama's deflected cross.

Yasuhito Endo perhaps should have done better when he beat the offside trap only to see his shot smothered by Kashima goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata, and Sota Nakazawa headed centimeters over on 53 minutes as Gamba probed for an equalizer.

South Korean striker Cho Jae Jin went closest to leveling but it was not to be Gamba's day as his chip came back off the crossbar.

"Looking at the quality Gamba possess, we always knew it was going to be a tough match but fortunately we were able to make a good start and take one of the chances we created," said Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira.

"We also expected to be put under pressure in the second half but we were able to weather it. The only disappointment is that we weren't able to make the most of the other chances that came our way, although it's a good win when you take into account who we were playing," he said.

Nakata, who spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines after knee surgery last fall, was particularly pleased with his contribution after starting in place of suspended Mitsuo Ogasawara.

"It's been a while since I started and I've been mainly limited to defensive duties when I've come on as a sub, so I wanted to get a bit more involved in attack," said Nakata, whose goal was his first since returning to Kashima from Swiss club Basel last June.

"I would've liked my goal to have been a bit prettier. It's not really my job to score goals but I'm pleased to have got one," he added.

In Sunday's other matches, three goals in 10 second-half minutes from Juninho, Hiroyuki Taniguchi and Renatinho saw Kawasaki Frontale come from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at FC Tokyo and move into fourth place, while Sho Naruoka struck the winner as Jubilo Iwata edged Nagoya Grampus 2-1, with all three goals coming in the last six minutes.

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