Saturday, December 6, 2008

Kashima crowned champions but JEF United are the talk of the town

Kashima crowned champions but JEF United are the talk of the town.
Kashima Antlers won back-to-back championships on an incredible final day in the J. League, with Takuya Nozawa's thirty-fifth minute strike enough to lift the Antlers over bottom club Consadole Sapporo in front of 26,220 fans at the Sapporo Dome.

Kawasaki Frontale leapfrogged Nagoya Grampus into second with a 2-0 win away at local rivals Tokyo Verdy, with 24,620 fans turning out at Ajinomoto Stadium for the derby. Verdy fans among them left with broken hearts as the capital club suffered relegation, with Frontale's Renatinho and Kengo Nakamura scoring the goals to send Verdy down.

A disappointing scoreless draw was played out between Oita Trinita and Nagoya Grampus in front of 28,831 fans at the Kyushu Oil Dome, although the point was enough to see Nagoya seal a place in the revamped AFC Champions League next season.

The day's most dramatic encounter took place in front of 17,152 fans at a sold-out Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba. Hosts JEF United started the day in an automatic relegation place, and things looked bleak for the Chiba Dogs when visitors FC Tokyo raced out to a 2-0 lead.

In desperation United coach Alex Miller introduced pacy substitute Tatsunori Arai in the second half, and Arai responded by pulling one goal back. Midfielder Tatsuya Yazawa then added a second for United, and there was high drama ten minutes from time when FC Tokyo captain Yasuyuki Konno was adjuged to have fouled JEF United striker Reinaldo in the box.

With many expecting talismanic front man Seiichiro Maki to take the resultant spot-kick, it was instead Reinaldo who stepped up, and despite the enormity of the situation the big Brazilian held his nerve to blast an unstoppable penalty high into the goal.

Finding themselves behind FC Tokyo suddenly threw every man forward, with the Gasmen still harbouring hopes of qualifying for the AFC Champions League. Instead it was United who scored again on the counter, as a loose ball broke to an unmarked Yazawa on the halfway line, and the diminutive midfielder did brilliantly to draw keeper Hitoshi Shiota before dinking his shot into the back of the net.

United's win proved disastrous for Jubilo Iwata, who will now face J2 side Vegalta Sendai in a playoff to decide which team will take their place in the top flight next season. A capacity crowd of 16,593 packed into Yamaha Stadium in Iwata but it was visitors Omiya Ardija who stole the points, as Daigo Kobayashi's late goal confirmed Omiya's place in the top flight next season.

The most extraordinary result of the day came in front of 53,583 fans at Saitama Stadium, where Urawa Reds were thrashed 6-1 by arch-enemies Yokohama F. Marinos.

Earlier this week Urawa informed coach Gert Engels that his services would no longer be required next season, and the Reds turned in a shambolic display in front of their home fans to end the campaign on a sour note. Furious supporters vented their frustration at club officials throughout, as the Saitama giants ended their season in total disarray.

In J2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima sealed promotion to the top flight at the first time of asking months ago, but the southern outfit managed to crack the 100 point mark as they thrashed Tokushima Vortis 3-0 in the 45th and final round of action.

Montedio Yamagata had also sealed promotion to the top flight before the final day, but they beat Mito Hollyhock 1-0 at home for good measure to seal promotion with a win.

All that was left was a head-to-head duel between Vegalta Sendai and Cerezo Osaka in the race to claim the playoff spot.

A capacity crowd of 18,807 turned out at Yurtec Sendai Stadium and they exploded with joy when Kunimitsu Sekiguchi's goal propelled Vegalta to a 1-0 win over Thespa Kusatsu.

Sendai's win made Cerezo Osaka's 2-1 victory over Ehime FC in front of 16,186 fans at Nagai Stadium redundant, as popular northerners Sendai booked their place in the playoff by finishing third, to confirm a home-and-away showdown with J1 club Jubilo Iwata.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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