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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Antlers Expose Grampus Shortcomings

Kashima earned a decisive 4-0 win at Nagoya. In what was otherwise a fairly close game, the Antlers' extra bit of class and experience saw them capitalise on their chances while Grampus failed to score from several good opportunities. (Grampus out shot the Antlers 17 to 9, but did not make any of them count.) In terms of closeness of the contest, this was similar to the 1-2 home loss to Gamba earlier this year. In terms of the score, it was like Nagoya 5-0 win over Kofu a couple of years ago, when a close encounter was not reflected in the score line. However, a 4-0 loss at home is a disappointing loss no matter how many chances the team created, and poses the first real test of Stojkovic's ability to get the team back on track after a bad loss. It also exposed the lack of depth to the squad, with the absences of Magnum, Nakamura and Takeuchi being keenly felt.

Seigo Narazaki
Milos Bajalica, Maya Yoshida, Takahiro Masukawa, Shohei Abe
Yoshizumi Ogawa, Kei Yamaguchi, Keiji Yoshimura (Toshiya Fujita 64), Masaki Fukai (Keita Sugimoto 55)
Keiji Tamada, Frode Johnsen (Yuki Maki 70)

Kashima Antlers
Hitoshi Sogohata
Asuto Uchida, Daiki Iwamasa, Masahiko Inoha (Masaki Chugo), Toru Araiba
Takeshi Aoki, Mitsuo Ogasawara, Masashi Motoyama (Danilo HT), Takuya Nozawa (Chikashi Masuda)
Marquinhos, Yuzo Tashiro
Scorers: Marquinhos 4, 90, Ogasawara 28, Danilo 79

Kashima got off to a lively start, and were soon 1-0 up when Marquinhos was quickest to react to a loose ball that Grampus allowed to get through to the six-yard box after four minutes. Nagoya did not really get going until a good through ball from Johnsen after eight minutes proved just a touch too strong in the wet conditions and allowed Sogahta to get to the ball just ahead of Tamada. Former Antler Fukai then went close with a couple of efforts before Nagoya appeared to draw level after 24 minutes, when Johnsen slotted home a cross from the right. However, Johnsen had drifted offside in the buildup and the referee's assistant spotted this and, in rare case of them actually drawing the ref's attention to something, the goal was ruled out. Shortly after this incident, Kashima went further ahead when a wickedly dipping shot from Ogasawara beat Narazaki from 40 yards.

In addition to a handful of half-chances Grampus had an excellent opportunity to get back into the game later in the half, when Tamada was brought down by a clumsy challenge by Inoha. (Although the yellow card he received in addition to conceding the PK seemed a bit harsh.) As if to prove the this would definitely not be Nagoya's day, Tamada blasted the penalty over the bar. This sense of inevitability was reinforced when Sogahata made a finger-tip save to stop a Bajalica header just before half time.

Unlike the first half, Grampus made a much brighter start to the second period, with Tamada just filing to control his shot from a sharp cut-back by Ogawa in the opening minutes. Johnsen saw a volley from a tight angle go over the bar, and Tamada saw another good effort saved by Sogohata as Nagoya pressed to get back into the game. However, they were unable to make their efforts count and were further punished by a stunning goal from Denilo and cool finish by Marquinhos after a surging run down the right by Uchida. So, an entertaining game ended with a decisive win for the visitors who showed the difference in class between the top two or three teams (Gamba, Antlers and Reds) and those hoping to challenge for a title. Although Grampus competed well for much of the game, the extra precision and composure of the Antlers saw them highlight the difference that this can make.

For manager Pixie, the challenge will be to pick the team up again after this setback. Fortunately, if the players focus on the fact they did indeed create the chances to score, and can quickly regain the sharpness they showed before the break, the team should soon be back to winning ways.

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