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Sunday, Nov. 21, 2004

Reds back into second-stage title

SAITAMA (Kyodo) Urawa Reds finally put an end to years of frustration for their success-hungry supporters on Saturday as they captured their first-ever J. League stage title by winning the second stage despite a 2-1 defeat to nine-man Nagoya Grampus Eight.

News photo
Urawa Reds foreard Emerson takes a shot on goal in the first half of Saturday's J.League match at Komaba Stadium. Grampus Eight won 2-1, but the Reds still the clinched second- stage title.

Urawa claimed the title after Gamba Osaka, the only team with a mathematical chance of overtaking Guido Buchwald's men, went down 2-0 at home to Yokohama F. Marinos.

The Saitama club has an unassailable seven-point lead at the top of the standings with 31 points and two games in the second stage remaining.

Nagoya had Masayuki Omori and Brazilian midfielder Claiton sent off at Komaba Stadium, but took all three points thanks to goals from Marques and Makoto Kakuda. Emerson replied for Urawa from the penalty spot in the late stages.

Urawa will face first-stage winner and defending champion Yokohama in next month's two-leg championship final.

"This season we have played very well in the second stage. I think we improved greatly both at the back and up front and played as a much more compact unit and that's why we have won the title early," said German manager Buchwald, who guided the team to success in his first season at the helm.

One of the best supported teams in the country, Urawa has underachieved since the J. League kicked off in 1993 and until landing the Nabisco Cup last season, had never won a major trophy of any kind.

The best it had finished in a single stage was third in 1995 and again in 1998. It was relegated to the second division in 1999 but bounced back in its first attempt.

Urawa was given a raucous reception by its adoring fans but made a nervy start and Brazilian defender Nene missed a golden chance to give the home side the lead, blazing over from close range in the 28th minute.

Nagoya, which arrived in Saitama on the back of three straight wins, looked threatening on the break and Urawa goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi made a smart save against Claiton, but the visitors took the lead when Marques stabbed home a cross from Naoshi Nakamura in the 41st minute.

Nene spurned another decent chance just before the interval, driving into the side netting after Seigo Narazaki had palmed away a powerful shot from Alpay Ozalan.

Urawa was given a boost when Omori was sent off for his second bookable offense after a push on Emerson.

But Buchwald's men were unable to find a way through and Ueslei should have doubled Nagoya's lead on a counterattack in the 70th minute, but contrived to shoot wide after taking the ball around Yamagishi.

Nagoya deservedly got the second through Kakuda, who brought down a cross from Claiton and darted in behind Japan international Alessandro Santos before rifling past Yamagishi.

Claiton became the second Nagoya player to be sent for an early shower, before Emerson converted from the spot after he had been brought down by Masahiro Koga.

At Expo Stadium, Gamba's slim hopes of becoming the first team from western Japan to win a J. League title ended after a double from Yokohama midfielder Daisuke Oku.

Gamba is level on 24 points with Nagoya and JEF United Ichihara, which thrashed Vissel Kobe 5-1.

At the bottom of the table, Spain-bound Japan striker Yoshito Okubo scored after just two minutes but relegation-threatened Cerezo Osaka had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Tokyo Verdy.

In other games, Sanfrecce Hiroshima edged Jubilo Iwata 3-2, Edmilson scored twice as Albirex Niigata beat FC Tokyo 4-2, Shimizu S-Pulse overcame Kashiwa Reysol 2-1, while Kashima Antlers won 3-0 at Oita Trinita.



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