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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007

Gamba, Frontale vie for Nabisco title

Staff writer

Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale have had to settle with playing second fiddle to Urawa Reds in other competitions this season, but they'll be center stage on Saturday as both clubs look to win the Nabisco Cup for the first time.

The two teams had high hopes of displacing the Saitama giants as J. League champions after Frontale finished second and Gamba third last year, but things haven't turned out as planned.

Still, a lucrative prize awaits at Tokyo's National Stadium for the winner of the league cup final in the shape of a check for ¥100 million.

Kawasaki had the added incentive of trying to outdo Urawa in the AFC Champions League as well as the league this season and the early signs in both competitions were promising.

Frontale won 2-1 away to Urawa early on in the league and eclipsed the Reds during the ACL group stages by qualifying from their group with five wins and a draw compared to the Reds' two wins and four draws.

Unfortunately for Takashi Sekizuka's men, they were knocked out on penalties in the ACL quarterfinals by Iran's Sepahan, which faces Urawa in the first leg of the continental final on Wednesday.

Frontale also now stands a massive 22 points behind Urawa in the league, a sad state of affairs considering they finished only five points behind the Reds last year.

Gamba's solid league form has meant the Osakans have not allowed the Reds to run away with the title, but with four matches to go Akira Nishino's men are seven points behind the leaders in second place.

Shimizu S-Pulse gave Gamba's title hopes a near fatal blow by beating the Osakans' 3-1 last Saturday in what was the final warmup for Gamba before playing Frontale.

Kawasaki warmed up for the final last Sunday with a 7-0 thrashing of FC Tokyo in front of more than 30,000 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium.

The "Tamagawa Classico" was hardly a classic from the home side's point off view as Frontale ran riot, Chong Tese leading the charge with a first-half hat trick.

Yoshinobu Minowa, Magnum, substitute Shuhei Terada and Juninho, with his 19th of the season, also scored.

Both Gamba and Kawasaki have been Nabisco Cup finalists once before, Gamba losing to JEF United Chiba on penalties in 2005 and Frontale beaten 2-0 by Kashima Antlers in 2000.

After Gamba saw off Urawa in the quarterfinals with a stunning 5-2 second-leg victory, the Nabisco Cup has been one competition at least this season that is a Reds-free zone.

With the J. League all but out of reach for Gamba and Kawasaki's ACL dreams a distant memory, this is a huge opportunity for both teams to add some gloss to seasons that haven't gone particularly as planned.

With some of the best attacking talent in the J. League on either team — Gamba's Magno Alves and Bare and Frontale's Juninho — it promises to be an exciting game, with the prospect of a lot of goals.

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