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Monday, Nov. 8, 2010

Antlers revive slim title hopes with win over Grampus

Staff writer

KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Defending champions Kashima Antlers reined in Nagoya Grampus' march toward the J. League title and revived their own championship ambitions with a gritty 1-0 win over the league leaders on Sunday.

News photo
One is enough: Kashima Antlers striker Marquinhos (18) celebrates his goal in the 59th minute against first-place Nagoya Grampus on Sunday. KYODO PHOTO

Grampus began the day with a 10-point advantage at the top of the table, knowing that a win or a draw at Kashima Stadium would give them the chance to wrap up a first-ever championship the following week at home to struggling Omiya Ardija.

But a 59th-minute goal from Marquinhos put Nagoya's celebrations on ice, catapulting Antlers back into contention eight points off the pace with five games remaining and giving manager Oswaldo Oliveira renewed hope of an unlikely triumph.

"I believe we still have a chance to win," he said. "It doesn't depend on our own legs but we have another five games.

"I could feel in the changing room after the game that the players are confident and they will do their best to continue, even though it will be hard."

Nagoya manager Dragan Stojkovic tried to play down the significance of the result, insisting that his side remains the clear favorite to end Kashima's reign after three years at the top.

"Since August we have been in first and we have kept that place for a long time," he said. "We will do everything in the last five games to keep that place. I think we deserve to be there — it is not coincidence. This result does nothing to change my mind.

"Kashima is an experienced team. They have been champions three times in a row and everyone must respect that. But now it is time to change that situation, and we will do that. We will decide our destiny, no one else."

Referee Nobutsugu Murakami pointed to the penalty spot in the fifth minute when Kashima's Gilton took down Keiji Tamada, but Nagoya's hopes of stealing an early march were soon deflated. Murakami downgraded the decision to a free kick after his linesman judged contact had been made outside the box, and Tamada's weak effort did nothing to trouble Hitoshi Sogahata.

Grampus had a further penalty claim turned down when Josh Kennedy hit the deck in the 35th minute, but a yellow card for diving was the Australian's only reward, ruling him out of Nagoya's next match.

"It was a clear, 200 percent penalty kick," said Stojkovic. "That moment changed everything. Different game, different result."

Kashima began to force the issue as the second half got under way, and Marquinhos struck 14 minutes after the restart. Grampus goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki threw the ball straight to Gilton, and the left back laid the ball off for his fellow Brazilian to drill low into the corner.

Antlers remained in the driving seat as Grampus struggled to find a way back, and Stojkovic's response was to bring on substitute Marcus Tulio Tanaka as an emergency striker. The national team defender's height and presence helped shift the balance Nagoya's way, but Takahiro Masukawa and Yoshizumi Ogawa were unable to take advantage of good chances as Kashima rode out the win.

"For us it was very positive," said Oliveira. "The result was good for us. How they react to the loss, I cannot imagine. I can't say how it will affect them."

In the day's other game, Sanfrecce Hiroshima beat Urawa Reds 2-1 thanks to a late strike by Hisato Sato in his first game back from injury, while in J2 Kashiwa Reysol secure promotion back to the top flight after a year's absence.

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