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Sunday, Feb. 23, 2003

Kashima Antlers hold out to take tri-nations Champions Cup


By KUMI KINOHARA
Staff writer

The Kashima Antlers battled to a scoreless draw with South Korean K. League champion Seongnam Ilhwa and thereby clinched the inaugural A3 Mazda Champions Cup on Saturday afternoon at Tokyo's National Stadium.

News photo
Kashima midfielder Koji Nakata tries to clear the ball as a Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma player looks on during their tri-nation Mazda Champions Cup game at Tokyo's National Stadium.

Following their previous two wins in the four-team round-robin tournament, a draw was good enough for the Nabisco Cup-winning Antlers to earn their first ever Asian title, finishing with a 2-1-0 record and seven points.

The 10th title in the club's history earned the side $400,000 in prize money and its Japan defender Yutaka Akita was named the MVP of the tournament.

Chinese League champion Dalian Shide beat J. League champion Jubilo Iwata 1-0 to finish second on six points with a 2-0-1 record. Seongnam (1-1-1) finished third with four points, while Iwata finished fourth with three straight losses.

Seongnam, which needed to win by more than two goals, after beating Jubilo and losing to Dalian earlier in the tournament, started off aggressively and threatened with shots from forwards Denis Laktionov, Sasa Drakulic and former JEF United player Kim Dae Eui, only to find Kashima goalkeeper Riki Takasaki in inspired form.

The Antlers, meanwhile, struggled up front and missed the injured Atsushi Yanagisawa, who injured his knee in Wednesday's match.

But Kashima manager Toninho Cerezo seemed content with his team's performance.

"The results do count," the Brazilian manager said after winning his sixth trophy in four season with the Antlers. "We aimed for a draw and the results came out right. We knew our opponents would rely on long balls but our defenders dealt with them well and our 'keeper Takasaki proved his ability."

Seongnam manager Kim Kyung Bok said, "We had to win the match by a two goal margin and our players became stiff under the pressure. That's why we couldn't convert the chances we created."

The manager of the five-time K. League champion, however, added, "I think this tournament is meaningful. But I personally think that it would be more significant if it were competed only by league champions. Seeing the Nabisco Cup winner take the tournament doesn't convince me."

Cerezo replied, "That sounds like the excuse of a loser."

The annual tournament features league champions from South Korea, China and Japan with the fourth slot being awarded to another team from a host nation. China is scheduled to host the tournament next year.

Japan's tour back on

The Japan national soccer team will visit the United States for a two-match friendly series late next month -- against Uruguay on March 26 in San Jose and United States on March 29 in Seattle -- as initially planned, the Japan Football Association said Saturday in Tokyo.

Having faced fierce complaints from the U.S. soccer federation for its earlier cancellation, JFA president Saburo Kawabuchi overruled his previous decision following an hour-long meeting between the two associations in Los Angeles on Friday.

The Japanese governing body of the sport will contact J. League clubs to win their approval and ask for their cooperation in releasing their players for the trip.

But Kawabuchi stressed that the JFA would again cancel the tour if war breaks out or a terror attack occurs.



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