16 October 2009 ~ While the Kashima Antlers players warmed up by taking Sunday league style potshots at their goalkeeper the scoreboard read 1-3 with 74 minutes gone. At the other end of the ground the Kawasaki Frontale players were being put through their defensive paces.
The match in the Japanese first division (J1) had originally kicked off over three weeks earlier but was abandoned with just 16 minutes to play as a result of torrential rainfall in the city of Kashima, two hours north-east of Tokyo. At the time, Antlers were seven points clear of Frontale at the top of the table, although this gap seemed sure to be cut to four as they looked to be heading for defeat. Understandably, the decision by referee Masayoshi Okada to call things to a halt was greeted with frustration by the Frontale players – not least their South Korean striker Chong Tese who, for a while, refused to leave the pitch.
The resumption of the game from the 74th minute 25 days later certainly made for a strange spectacle and the peculiarity of the evening showed no signs of letting up when Antlers scored after just five seconds. Play recommenced from an Antlers free-kick deep inside their own half. Masahiko Inoha’s long punt forward was flicked on and prodded home by Daiki Iwamasa. Antlers’ star striker Marquinhos snatched the ball from the back of the net and, as the red and blue half of the stadium celebrated, the Antlers players hurried back for another restart – this time from the centre circle.
Despite doing their best to run the clock down by exaggerating injuries and sending long balls for their willing strikers Tese and Juninho to chase, Frontale lacked composure in possession and Antlers laid siege to their opponents' half. A couple of minutes later Danilo thundered a header against the Frontale crossbar and soon afterwards Chikasi Masuda blazed a volley over the bar. It seemed inevitable that the home side would equaliser but time was running out. The golden opportunity fell to Iwamasa in injury time (of which a Ferguson-approved five minutes were played) but he was unable to double his tally for the evening when he somehow failed to connect with a header from six yards out.
The Frontale bench spent a full two minutes asking the referee to call time and eventually got their wish, condemning Antlers to their fifth straight defeat. As a result of this recent decline in form the picture at the top of the table has changed dramatically of late, and there are now four teams within a point of each other – with Shimizu S-Pulse leading, closely followed by Antlers, Gamba Osaka and Frontale. Although they officially lost the game, the 1-0 victory on the night could reignite Antlers' charge, and the final six – 90 minute – games of the season are shaping up to be very exciting indeed. Sean Carroll