Monday 03 December 2012

2008 Asian champions Gamba Osaka relegated to J2



A dramatic final day to the J. League season saw the 2005 champions and 2008 Asian Champions League winners Gamba Osaka relegated to the second tier for the first time in their history.

Following a disastrous season for Kansai football in general, Gamba will be joined in J2 by local rivals Vissel Kobe, but there were scenes of jubilation up on the Sea of Japan coast as Albirex Niigata completed their incredible late recovery.

A point adrift of safety going into the final Saturday, Gamba got off to the worst possible start to their away fixture at Jubilo Iwata – conceding the opener in all too familiar fashion after just five minutes. Hiroki Yamada’s cross was diverted past goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya by his teammate Sota Nakazawa, with Ryoichi Maeda on hand to convert after Akira Kaji’s desperate attempt to clear off the line.

Albirex had kept their own survival hopes alive with a shock victory over second-placed Vegalta Sendai the previous weekend, ahead of their home fixture with a Consadole Sapporo outfit destined to record the lowest points tally – 14 – in J1 history. Things appeared to be going according to plan as goals from Shusuke Tsubouchi and Bruno Lopes took the Niigata club into a 2-0 half-time lead.

This would have been enough to overhaul not only Gamba but also Vissel, who hosted a Sanfrecce Hiroshima side keen to repay Albirex for the favour that had clinched their first ever J1 title.

After a goalless first half, the match at Home’s Stadium Kobe sparked into life seven minutes into the second when Kunie Kitamoto foolishly slid in on Hiroshima forward Hisato Sato, who converted the resulting penalty to finish the season with a league-best 22 goals.

Almost immediately afterwards, Shu Kurata scored a brilliant equaliser for Gamba, dribbling past both Rodrigo Souto and Tomohiko Miyazaki on the by-line before finishing from a near-impossible angle. With Shota Sakaki pulling one back for Sapporo in Niigata, another goal in either of those games would now have been enough to save the Osaka men.

Gamba piled forwards in search of the winner. Mercurial striker Leandro hit the crossbar, Akihiro Ienaga had a shot blocked on the line, and Yasuhito Endo netted with a header only to be denied by an offside flag.

But disaster struck with five minutes remaining when Iwata midfielder Yuki Kobayashi smashed the ball past Fujigaya at his near post to put the hosts 2-1 in front.

By this point, Alan Mineiro and Bruno Lopes had extended Niigata’s lead to 4-1, and it was only a matter of waiting for the other matches to finish. News of the defeats for both Gamba and Kobe confirmed their place in the top flight for another season, sparking mass celebrations for a team that had been tipped for the drop from day one.

For Vissel, it was a miserable end to a season that had begun with significant investment and hopes of challenging for Asian qualification. In mid-August they had been 11 points clear of danger – and only as many adrift of top spot – but they managed just one win in 12 matches thereafter to plummet down the order.

The shock was even more profound for Gamba, who had played for the title on the final day 12 months ago.

Their decision to replace successful manager Akira Nishino – who later moved to Kobe before another dismissal last month – with the unknown Brazilian José Carlos Serrão set the Osakans into a disastrous rut from which his replacement, Masanobu Matsunami, struggled to escape.

The mid-season return of Leandro sparked a haul of 25 points from 16 games – leaving them both with a positive goal difference and as the division’s top scorers – but the damage had already been done.

City neighbours Cerezo Osaka had also gone into the final day with a slim threat of relegation, but stayed up after drawing 2-2 with Kawasaki Frontale.

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A year after almost suffering relegation themselves, Urawa Reds returned to the AFC Champions League for the first time in five seasons after a 2-0 victory over Nagoya Grampus elevated them to third in the final standings.

Yosuke Kashiwagi’s header put them in front midway through the first half, before Tomoaki Makino smashed a superb free-kick through the narrowest of gaps between the outside of the defensive wall and the inside of Seigo Narazaki’s far post.

Sagan Tosu had started the day in the last automatic qualifying spot but had to settle for a final position of fifth – still an astonishing achievement in their debut J1 season – after losing 1-0 at Yokohama F Marinos.

A trademark free kick from Shunsuke Nakamura took Marinos up to fourth – which could be enough for an ACL place too in the event that Urawa win the Emperor’s Cup.

Kashiwa Reysol’s hopes of another continental campaign were dashed as they lost 2-0 at Kashima Antlers to finish their title defence in sixth position.

Elsewhere, runners-up Sendai were thrashed 6-2 at FC Tokyo, while Omiya Ardija extended their unbeaten run to a club record 11 matches with a scoreless draw at Shimizu S-Pulse.


J1 results (matchday 34)
Kashima Antlers 2-0 Kashiwa Reysol
Urawa Reds 2-0 Nagoya Grampus
FC Tokyo 6-2 Vegalta Sendai
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Sagan Tosu
Albirex Niigata 4-1 Consadole Sapporo
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Omiya Ardija
Jubilo Iwata 2-1 Gamba Osaka
Cerezo Osaka 2-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Vissel Kobe 0-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima


J1 final standings
1) SANFRECCE HIROSHIMA 64
2) Vegalta Sendai 57
3) Urawa Reds 55
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4) Yokohama F Marinos 53
5) Sagan Tosu 53
6) Kashiwa Reysol 52
7) Nagoya Grampus 52
8) Kawasaki Frontale 50
9) Shimizu S-Pulse 49
10) FC Tokyo 48
11) Kashima Antlers 46
12) Jubilo Iwata 46
13) Omiya Ardija 44
14) Cerezo Osaka 42
15) Albirex Niigata 40
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16) Vissel Kobe 39
17) Gamba Osaka 38
18) Consadole Sapporo 14


The Football Japan Minutecast will take a short hiatus through the coldest part of winter before a triumphant return next year – although we hope to record one or two special editions to help plug the gap until the new season.

We are looking for sponsorship to help us keep running in 2013 – please contact Ben Mabley for details.

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