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Sunday, December 04, 2005

Cerezo Ties FC Tokyo in Final Match--Loses J.League Championship

Jリーグ優勝

The final day of the J.League season saw five teams with a chance to win it all: Cerezo, Gamba, Kashima, Urawa, and JEF. At the top of the table—by a point—sat Cerezo Osaka. The team that just barely avoided relegation last season was now staring at a championship—a first for a Kansai team. All they had to do was beat FC Tokyo and glory was theirs.

Coming out of the Nagai subway, the skies were overcast and the wind brisk. Daffuya—yakuza ticket scalpers—were busy as were Israeli vendors selling replica jerseys. The press box was full, joining the 43,000 expectant fans. On cue, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds just as the whistle blew for kickoff.

FC Tokyo was the better team, especially in midfield. Cerezo's former national team player Hiroaki Morishima is on his last legs at age 33; the rest of the team is a collection of players with middling talent. Even the two Brazilians are only fair.

At the 43-minute mark in the second half, however, Cerezo was up 2-1, thanks to two goals from former Bolton forward Akinori Nishizawa, and anxious fans were watching the clock. In a scramble in front of the Cerezo net in the 44th minute, FC Tokyo and national team midfielder Yasuyuki Konno slammed home a loose ball to draw even with seconds remaining. That, and a missed penalty in the first half, sealed the tie, which gave Cerezo a single point for a season total of 59 points. All four teams trailing Cerezo won their matches, including local rival Gamba Osaka, which won 4-2 over Kawasaki, collecting three points and thus the League championship for the first time. Cerezo players wept on the field.

Still, Cerezo coach Shinji Kobayashi should be given Coach of the Year award. To take a team without a star—having lost Yoshito Okubo to the Spanish first division—without even two or three very good players, to the cusp of winning the League—was a miracle.

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