Koroki brace propels Antlers
Kashima Antlers moved a step closer to a third consecutive J.League crown after the league leaders defeated title rivals Gamba Osaka 5-1 at Kashima Soccer Stadium. Forward Shinzo Koroki scored twice, while midfielder Takuya Nozawa netted once and set up two other goals to help Kashima to victory. But Kawasaki Frontale, who relinquished top spot with a loss last weekend, kept their title hopes alive by beating Albirex Niigata 1-0 at home to remain two points off the pace.
Antlers were superb from the outset against an injury-ravaged Gamba side that began the day three points behind their opponents and needing to win to stay in the title hunt. After a goalless first-half, the game burst into life when Koroki collected a fine through-ball from Mitsuo Ogasawara and sold his marker a dummy in the box before slotting home the opener in the 57th minute.
Three more goals came in the next four minutes. Nozawa reacted quickest to a rebound from Marquinhos's effort and fired home from 15 yards to give Kashima a 2-0 lead in the 59th minute. Gamba pulled a goal back through Takahiro Futagawa in the 61st minute, but Kashima found the net again two minutes later when Koroki converted Nozawa's pass in the area. The visitors' Brazilian forward Lucas was then dismissed after collecting a second booking before Kashima added two more goals in the final four minutes through Yuzo Tashiro and Daninlo.
Kashima can now clinch the title with a win at Urawa Reds on the final day of the season next Saturday. A draw or worse, however, will give Kawasaki a chance to snatch the crown if they can win at relegated Kashiwa Resyol. Frontale and Gamba also booked their place in next year's Asian Champions League due to results elsewhere.
"This is a great result, but Gamba played better than the score-line suggested. We deserved to win, but 5-1 was unexpected," said Kashima coach Oswaldo Oliveira. "The atmosphere was great as we had a great support from our fans. It's important our players feel their support and we have to maintain this mood for the next game."
Asked about his side's next game at Urawa, where Kashima clinched the title two years ago, the Brazilian added: "We did it two years ago and have another chance this time. We have to play well if we want to win this championship again."
Gamba manager Akira Nishino was similarly surprised by the margin of defeat.
"Since this was a six-pointer for both sides, I knew this would be a tough and tense game, but I didn't expect it would finish with a result like this," he said. "We were too careless and gave away counter-attack opportunities to our opponents."
In Kawasaki, North Korea striker Jong Tae-se netted the game's only goal in the 71st minute when he met a Juninho cross to seal Frontale's 1-0 triumph over Niigata. It was Jong's 13th goal of the season.
Urawa Reds fell 1-0 to Kyoto Sanga when substitute Hiroki Nakayama struck in the 72nd minute, while Japan forward Hisato Sato's first-half goal gave Sanfrecce Hiroshima a 1-0 win at Jubilo Iwata. Nagoya Grampus beat Montedio Yamagata 2-0 at home thanks to goals from Yoshizumi Ogawa and Brazilian midfielder Magnum and Kashiwa Reysol were relegated to Division Two after being held to a 1-1 draw by Omiya Ardija at home.
Brazilian forward Franca cancelled out Hayato Hashimoto's 75th-minute opener two minutes later, but it was not enough to prevent the hosts slipping out of the top flight. Finally, Tokyo edged out visiting Vissel Kobe 1-0 thanks to Daishi Hiramatsu's winner two minutes from time.