Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kashima Antlers the unlikeliest of champions

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Kashima Antlers are the unlikeliest of J-League champions.
On a day of drama in Japan, Kashima beat Shimizu S-Pulse 3-0 in front of 31,384 fans at Kashima Stadium on December 1.

With referee Yuichi Nishimura blowing full-time at Kashima Stadium, the video screen switched to a live broadcast from Yokohama, and desperate Antlers fans watched in amazement as bottom-placed Yokohama FC clung on to beat Urawa Reds 1-0 in front 46,697 fans at Nissan Stadium.

Kashima players celebrate
Urawa's shock loss propelled Kashima to their fifth J-League crown - but first since 2001, and sparked wild celebrations inside Kashima Stadium.

The win was savoured by Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswaldo de Oliveira, who had come under heavy criticism for his team's poor start to the season. De Oliveira paid tribute to midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara, whose return from Serie A side Messina during the summer break rejuvenated the Antlers.

The win capped a remarkable run for Kashima, who won their last nine league matches in a row, including a pivotal 1-0 win over Urawa Reds in front of 62,123 fans at Saitama Stadium in the penultimate round of matches.

Throughout the season Kashima never once lead in the league, but the Ibaraki giants were sitting atop the table when it mattered most.

Kashima Antlers 3 - 0 Shimizu S-Pulse
After seeing off the challenge of Gamba Osaka, Urawa looked certain to wrap up back-to-back J-League crowns. However a disastrous run of late season form, which saw them pick up just three points from their final five matches, put paid to the hopes of the Saitama side.

The loss brought to an end to a miserable week for Urawa, who entered the Emperor's Cup as defending champions but who were swiftly knocked out by J2 side Ehime FC on November 28. The Reds must now regroup for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, where they will face either Sepahan of Iran or New Zealand side Waitakere United in their opening match.

Meanwhile in the north of Japan, Consadole Sapporo capped a thrilling J2 season by winning the league thanks to a 2-1 win over Mito Hollyhock in front of 28,090 fans at the Sapporo Dome. Tokyo Verdy finished second after they drew 2-2 away at Cerezo Osaka, whilst Kyoto Sanga FC will play J1 side Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the promotion/relegation playoff, the first leg of which kicks off at Nishikyogoku Stadium in Kyoto on December 5.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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