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Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009

Antlers stumble again; Frontale fail to capitalize

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Kashima Antlers' stranglehold on the J. League title race slipped again after a 2-1 defeat by Yokohama F. Marinos on Saturday, but best-placed challengers Kawasaki Frontale failed to capitalize by losing to Urawa Reds later in the evening.

News photo
Eye on the ball: Montedio's Ryo Kobayashi (left) and S-Pulse's Frode Johnsen compete for the ball during Saturday's J. League match. Shimizu beat Yamagata 1-0. KYODO PHOTO

Daisuke Sakata gave Marinos an 11th-minute lead at Nissan Stadium before Kashima captain Mitsuo Ogasawara equalized almost immediately, but Kazuma Watanabe restored Yokohama's advantage three minutes later to leave Antlers sweating on the outcome of Frontale's match with Reds at Todoroki Stadium.

A win for Kawasaki would have slashed Antlers' lead at the top of the table down to four points, with a strong possibility of that becoming one when the two teams complete last weekend's rain-interrupted head-to-head clash on Oct. 7 with the score at 3-1 to Frontale and 15 minutes left to play.

Urawa's 2-0 win courtesy of goals by Robson Ponte and Keita Suzuki thwarted Kawasaki's ambitions of closing the gap, but Shimizu S-Pulse jumped into second place, albeit having played a game more, and cut Kashima's lead to four points with a 1-0 win over Montedio Yamagata.

With the chasing pack gaining ground, Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira is growing concerned.

"Today we had a lot of opportunities to score and we didn't," he said. "Our team at this moment is very anxious, and sometimes they lose their balance, their equilibrium, at the right moment to score.

"I am trying to show them the right way. We are still in front, we are still top, so it is better in this situation. Our team knows each other very well, so I think suddenly we are going to find the right way to score goals and win games."

The match exploded after a quiet first 10 minutes, with Shohei Ogura providing the spark for Sakata to light the fuse. Ogura broke down the left before delivering a perfect cross into the area, and Sakata rose above the Kashima defense to thump a header into the back of the net.

Ogasawara popped up at the back post to finish off Toru Araiba's good work as Antlers leveled the score, but Yokohama's reply was simply to take the lead again.

Watanabe controlled the ball before cutting inside to tee himself up for a shot from outside the box, and the ball took a deflection off Daiki Iwamasa to leave goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata helpless.

The champions struggled for the rest of the match as Yokohama snapped into every tackle, prompting a chorus of boos and angry confrontations from the visiting fans as Oliveira joined his players in apologetic bows after the final whistle.

"I am not just the coach when we win," he said. "When I think the situation calls for it I go to help, not just when we win but when we lose too. The fans never accept anything less than five-star, but they must also help not just when we are winning.

"Compared to the other teams we are in a very good situation. It is not the moment to lose our minds. We have to keep going and support our players."

Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka joined Frontale and Sanfrecce Hiroshima on 43 points after a 0-0 draw with FC Tokyo, while Nagoya Grampus moved up to eighth after a 2-0 win over Omiya Ardija.

Jubilo Iwata comfortably disposed of Kyoto Sanga 3-0, and Albirex Niigata and Oita Trinita drew 0-0 in the day's other game.

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