Kashima Stadium is one of the more remote venues in Japanese football.
Sandwiched between Lake Kitaura on one side and Kashima Sea on the other, most fans make the long-haul trip to Kashima Stadium by train, as it trundles through the urban sprawl of Greater Tokyo and out into the open fields of Ibaraki.
The stadium is rarely full - only travelling hordes of Urawa Reds fans push attendances towards capacity - yet it remains a hostile place to come and play, not least because the J. League's most successful club Kashima Antlers possess a relentlessly imposing home record.
So it was that Nagoya Grampus made the slow journey out to Kashima Stadium on November 7, hoping that a 10-point gap over second placed Kashima Antlers would be enough to see them cruise to the title.
Instead it was Kashima who left the champions-elect bloodied and bowed, as a goal from Brazilian veteran Marquinhos on the hour mark hauled the Antlers back into an improbable title race.
Kashima are now eight points behind long-term league leaders Nagoya with five games to play, but if any team has experience of reeling in a front runner, it's Kashima.
In 2007, they lifted the most dramatic of league titles by snatching the trophy from a shell-shocked Urawa on the final day of the season, as Kashima thrashed Shimizu S-Pulse and saw the Reds slump to defeat against relegated Yokohama FC.
Kashima coach Oswaldo de Oliveira knows results must once again go his team's way if they are to have any chance of lifting the title, but it would take a hardy soul to bet against the three-times defending champions - even if Nagoya are still in the box seat.
Nagoya's run home is relatively simple. They face easy-beats Omiya Ardija, Shonan Bellmare and FC Tokyo, before finishing the season with an away trip to Tokai rivals Jubilo Iwata and a home clash against Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Toyota Stadium.
Kashima start their run home with a tough test on the road at Kawasaki Frontale, before easier matches against Vissel Kobe, Jubilo Iwata, Kyoto Sanga and Montedio Yamagata follow.
With third-placed Gamba Osaka breathing down Kashima's necks, the title race still has some spark left in it yet. One more victory should be enough for Nagoya Grampus to wrap up their maiden J. League title: surely they can't choke now, can they?
Never say never, in the weird and wild world of the J. League.
Kashiwa Reysol lead the way in J2Chiba side Kashiwa Reysol look home and hosed in J2, and they should be joined in the top tier next season by fellow promotion certainties Ventforet Kofu, with Shonan Bellmare and Kyoto Sanga dropping down to replace them.
Reysol and Ventforet will almost certainly be joined by another former top-flight club in the form of Avispa Fukuoka, as the southern side have opened up a six-point gap on fourth-placed Tokyo Verdy with only five games remaining.
Jubilo Iwata win a dramatic League Cup finalThe 2010 Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup final was as dramatic as they come, and it was Jubilo Iwata who walked away with the spoils, winning 5-3 in extra-time at a sun-drenched National Stadium in Tokyo.
Opponents Sanfrecce Hiroshima came within a minute of lifting the title, but a late equaliser from Jubilo's prolific striker Ryoichi Maeda sent the match into the added period.
Midfielders Minoru Suganuma and Ryohei Yamazaki then gave Jubilo a two-goal cushion, only for Sanfrecce star Tomoaki Makino to cut the deficit with a superb free-kick.
Maeda put the game beyond doubt with his second goal of the afternoon, and Sanfrecce's misery was compounded when Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi saved Makino's penalty with virtually the last kick of the game.
The win saw Jubilo collect their first major piece of silverware since 2003, as one of the fallen giants of the Japanese game finally returned to the winner's circle.
Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
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