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Saturday, March 6, 2010
2010 J. LEAGUE PREVIEW
Team-by-team previews of the 18 teams competing in the first division.
Last season: champion
Having broken new ground last season with an unprecedented third straight title, Kashima heads into the new campaign as the obvious favorite to claim a fourth.
Manager Oswaldo Oliveira has given his squad its annual nip and tuck with the departure of several squad players, and it says much about Antlers' quality control that left-back Park Joo Ho has been declared surplus to requirements despite a decent first season.
Brazilian Gilton will be the man to replace him, while the impressive Lee Jung Soo arrives from Kyoto Sanga.
But the new faces are merely a supplement to the most established, battle-hardened squad in the league, and it will again be the likes of player of the year Mitsuo Ogasawara, Daiki Iwamasa and Takuya Nozawa who lead the charge.
If Kashima seems destined for more glory, however, one cloud remains. The team's run of five defeats last year was too serious to be dismissed as just a blip, and it will at the very least have given rivals proof the champions are not infallible.
Whether they can take advantage is another matter. Kashima's biggest strength has been its iron resolve, and the way Oliveira's side hunted down Kawasaki Frontale at the business end of last season was typically ruthless.
"Never write off Antlers" was the message from that episode, and it is one that is not likely to change this season.