Monday 31 October 2011

Osako the hero as Antlers clinch Nabisco glory in extra time



Kashima Antlers collected the first major silverware of the Japanese season with a 1-0 victory over relegation-battling Urawa Reds in the final of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup.

With both sides reduced to ten men during a goalless 90 minutes, Yuya Osako finally broke the deadlock late in the first period of extra time to seal a sixth trophy in five years for a generally superior Kashima outfit.

After a cagey first half, the match suddenly turned at the start of the second when Urawa midfielder Naoki Yamada was dismissed for two quick-fire offences. Though perhaps unfortunate to receive a yellow card for his initial challenge on Toru Araiba, the 21-year-old left referee Minoru Tojo with little option after a foolish late lunge on Takeshi Aoki just three minutes later.

Oswaldo de Oliveira’s side quickly took advantage to stamp their impression on the final, introducing a third forward in Yuzo Tashiro and placing the Urawa defence under relentless pressure with a succession of chances. Takuya Nozawa was a constant menace – denied twice by desperate blocks from defender Mizuki Hamada and goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato, and crossing in a teasing free-kick only for Osako to head narrowly wide.

Numerical parity was restored after 80 minutes when Antlers defender Aoki picked up his second booking for an innocuous-looking challenge on Genki Haraguchi. But the red card had little impact on the overall dynamic, with Kashima continuing to force the Reds back line deep into their own half as the game entered extra time.

They finally got their reward with a move of real attacking quality in the 105th minute. Tashiro chested down and skilfully returned the ball to Shinzo Koroki, who had continued his run into the left-hand side of the penalty area. The occasional Japan forward then rolled a perfect low cross along the Urawa six-yard line for an unmarked Osako to slot home at the far post.

The Reds had no answer, and Kashima’s victory could even have been more emphatic as both Gaku Shibasaki and Koji Nakata struck the crossbar in the second extra period.

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This latest title is a record fourth for Kashima in the 20-year history of the competition and comes in a season during which the club was forced to suspend all activities for two weeks in the wake of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

The fact was not lost on captain Mitsuo Ogasawara, scorer of the only goal when Antlers beat Urawa by the same scoreline to lift the cup back in 2002.

He commented, “Having suffered the earthquake earlier this year, we wanted to show everybody back home that we could succeed. I think this victory is extremely meaningful.”

Manager De Oliveira, who remains in negotiations to extend his trophy-laden reign beyond the end of this season, added: “We have been through an awful lot this year. I am sure it has been highly stressful for the players. But the players were the ones who came through and won it for us today.”


TALKING POINTS
- FC Tokyo remain four points clear at the head of J2 with five games to play despite only drawing 1-1 in the capital city derby with Tokyo Verdy. Second-placed Sagan Tosu surprisingly dropped two points in a thrilling 4-4 draw away to bottom-of-the-table FC Gifu.
- Consadole Sapporo held onto the third and final promotion spot with a 3-0 win at home to Roasso Kumamoto, but Tokushima Vortis are still just a point behind after earning a crucial 1-0 victory away to fifth-placed JEF United Chiba.
- K-League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors will host Al-Sadd of Qatar in the AFC Champions League final next Saturday after both came through their semi-finals in midweek. The South Koreans eliminated Cerezo Osaka at the last eight stage.


Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final result
Urawa Reds 0-1 Kashima Antlers (after extra time)


AFC Champions League semi-final first leg results
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR) 2-1 Al-Ittihad (KSA)
Jeonbuk win 5-3 on aggregate

Al-Sadd (QAT) 0-1 Suwon Samsung Bluewings
Al-Sadd win 2-1 on aggregate


This article is based on a match report written by Ben Mabley for Goal.com on Saturday.

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