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Monday, Nov. 29, 2004

Okubo's double keeps Cerezo in top flight

NIIGATA (Kyodo) Japan striker Yoshito Okubo guaranteed Cerezo Osaka top flight soccer next season before departing for Spain by scoring a priceless double in his side's 2-1 win away to Albirex Niigata on the final day of the J. League second stage Sunday.

Okubo, who joins Spanish first division club Mallorca on a half-year loan deal next month, secured all three points for Cerezo with a late penalty and left Kashiwa Reysol fighting for its first-division life.

Kashiwa could only manage a 2-2 draw away to Oita Trinita, a result that coupled with Cerezo's win saw it finish bottom of the two-stage standings and condemned it to a playoff with Avispa Fukuoka, the third-placed team in the second division.

With the J. League expanding to 18 teams from next season, the third-placed team in the second division earns the chance to play in the top flight via the playoff on Dec. 4 and 12 with the bottom club from the 16-team first division.

Elsewhere, newly crowned second-stage winners Urawa Reds finished nine points clear at the top after a 1-0 win at home to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

In next month's two-leg championship final, Urawa faces first-stage winner and defending champion Yokohama F. Marinos, who were held 0-0 draw by Tokyo Verdy.

Ishizaki steps down

SHIZUOKA (Kyodo) Nobuhiro Ishizaki said Sunday he has decided to resign as manager of J. League first division side Shimizu S-Pulse after failing to turn around the Shizuoka club's fortunes.

Shimizu finished a club-worst 14th in the overall 16-team standings after going down 3-1 at home to Vissel Kobe on Sunday, the final day of the second stage.

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