Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds have played 34 matches this season and there’s nothing to separate them, with both sitting on 59 points. That’s good enough for fifth place in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE, but fifth place doesn’t give them much. Third place would put them in the AFC Champions league, though, and they are just five points off that coveted spot.
This weekend, Kashima and Urawa meet in a crucial match that could functionally eliminate one from the race for third place. Whoever loses could find themselves as many as eight points back of third, with three teams to leap in just the last three games of the season. That’s an awfully steep hill to climb.
Kashima will have the advantage of playing at home in this contest, but Urawa beat them earlier this season and should enter with plenty of confidence. The Reds are also coming off a last-gasp draw against champions Kawasaki Frontale over the weekend, giving them a terrific result to build off.
On Kashima’s side, they have the powerful duo of Ayase Ueda and Ryotaro Araki leading the way and that’s enough for any side to believe. It’s been nearly two months since a team held Antlers scoreless - a stretch in which they’ve averaged more than two goals scored per game to highlight just how spectacular their front line is.
Both Kashima and Urawa are running out of time to take a place in next season’s AFC Champions League. They need points immediately and the desperation both teams will bring to this weekend’s clash should make for a tantalizing meeting.