Friday, October 31, 2008

League Cup final takes centre stage

League Cup final takes centre stage.
Around 50,000 fans will descend on the National Stadium in Tokyo on November 1 as Oita Trinita do battle with Shimizu S-Pulse for the 2008 League Cup trophy.

Oita Trinita go into the match as rank outsiders, particularly with the Kyushu club missing influential midfielder Shingo Suzuki through suspension. Oita are also missing goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa through injury, while his Beijing Olympic team-mate Masato Morishige did not feature in Oita's most recent 1-0 league defeat at Vissel Kobe, although Morishige is expected to take his place in the Oita back three for this hotly anticipated clash.

Shimizu S-Pulse are missing playmaker Jungo Fujimoto, who had his leg fractured by an X-rated tackle from Omiya Ardija captain Yoshiyuki Kobayashi when the two sides met at Omiya Park back in July. The Shizuoka side could also be without ex-Bolton Wanderers striker Akinori Nishizawa, with the veteran struggling for weeks to shake off a niggling knock. Nevertheless S-Pulse go into the clash as red-hot favourites, with the Shizuoka side in sparkling form having hammered AFC Champions League finalists Gamba Osaka in the league last time out.

The clash also showcases a match-up between two of the most respected young coaches in Japanese football. 43-year old Pericles Chamusca was drafted in as coach of Oita Trinita midway through a difficult 2005 J. League campaign. Since then the Brazilian has steadied the ship at the Kyushu side, and although Oita battled against the drop for much of last season, the southern outfit are now enjoying their best season ever, with Oita currently sitting in fourth place in the J. League with four games remaining and fighting it out for silverware in the League Cup.

Shimizu S-Pulse coach Kenta Hasegawa is a more familiar name in Japanese football. The popular 43-year old played more than 200 J. League games for home town club Shimizu S-Pulse and was capped 27 times by Japan. Installed as S-Pulse coach at the start of the 2005 campaign, the former striker has overseen steady improvement in the Shizuoka side - who are battling for their first trophy since lifting the Emperor's Cup in 2001, although S-Pulse also lifted the season-opening Super Cup the following season.

Formally known as the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup, the tournament kicked off with a group stage back in March, and represents the best chance of lifting a trophy for two of the youngest sides in Japanese professional football, with Oita Trinita having been formed in 1994, two years after the formation of Shimizu S-Pulse.

The League Cup final also represents something of a coup for Japan's transport companies, with seats on JAL and ANA flights at a premium as around 10,000 Oita fans are expected to make the 900km journey from the southern island of Kyushu to the capital for this clash. Japan Rail will also be working overtime with an estimated 30,000 Shimizu S-Pulse fans set to make the 200km journey up the Pacific coastline, as the grand old venue colloquially known as "Kokuritsu" gets set to host one of the most colourful fixtures on the Japanese football calendar.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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