Sunday 02 January 2011

Nozawa strike seals New Year honours for Kashima

A perfectly placed free-kick from Takuya Nozawa sealed Emperor’s Cup glory for Kashima Antlers on New Year’s Day as Oswaldo de Oliveira’s side earned a 2-1 victory over Shimizu S-Pulse.

Japan’s most decorated club were in danger of finishing the 2010 season with nothing to show for their efforts after slipping to a disappointing fourth place in the league, but got off to a strong start when midfielder Fellype Gabriel headed home a Mitsuo Ogasawara corner after 26 minutes.

The lead lasted until just before the hour mark when S-Pulse, who had struggled to find any joy from a stubborn Antlers defence throughout the first half, finally gained reward for a more positive start to the second through Frode Johnsen. The veteran Norwegian, playing his last match in Japan before returning home to Odd Grenland, latched onto a long pass to poke the ball first time over onrushing goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata from the edge of the box.

Their upturn in fortunes, however, proved fleeting. When Kashima were awarded a free-kick 25 yards out with little under a quarter of an hour remaining, Ogasawara dummied before Nozawa lifted a delicate shot over the defensive wall that dipped and curled toward the bottom-left corner of the goal. Shimizu custodian Kaito Yamamoto threw a desperate palm at the ball but was unable to prevent it from nestling just inside the post.

The win gave Kashima a fourth Emperor’s Cup and their 14th major title overall, while ensuring that Oliveira maintained his record of one trophy per season in charge after finishing as J. League champions in each of his first three.

“I'm thrilled,” said Oliveira after the match. “I couldn’t allow myself to end the year without winning a title so this victory means a lot to me.”

This latest triumph was all the more remarkable following the departures of the out-of-contract Brazilian duo, Marquinhos and Gilton, in mid-December, and a plantaris tendon injury for defensive mainstay Daiki Iwamasa sustained during last week’s quarter-final.

For opposite number Kenta Hasegawa, it was a sad end to a six-year spell in charge at Nihondaira, during which he has established S-Pulse as consistent challengers but never quite managed to turn promising performances into silverware.

“Ultimately, it was Kashima who came away with another positive result,” reflected a magnanimous Hasegawa at full-time. “But I don’t regret anything I did today. Oliveira is a great manager - he found a way to win without his key players, and I didn’t.”

The Antlers’ success means they will make a fourth consecutive appearance in next season’s AFC Champions League despite having initially missed out through their league position.

Emperor’s Cup final result
Kashima Antlers 2-1 Shimizu S-Pulse

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