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Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2006

EMPEROR'S CUP

Reds end 25-year wait with final victory


Staff writer

Urawa Reds beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 at Tokyo's National Stadium on Sunday to win their first Emperor's Cup in 25 years.

News photo
Urawa Reds players celebrate after winning the 85th Emperor's Cup at Tokyo's National Stadium on Sunday, beating Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 in the final.

Croatian striker Tomislav Maric fired in from close range on 73 minutes after a wonderful four-man move to double Urawa's advantage after defender Satoshi Horinouchi had put the Reds in front with a first-half header.

Daisuke Ichikawa scored a consolation for S-Pulse in the 76th minute, but any hopes his side had of drawing level vanished when Kohei Hiramatsu was sent-off on 84 minutes for a second bookable offense.

The victory gave the Reds their second trophy in as many seasons under manager Guido Buchwald -- they won the J. League second stage in 2004 -- and an automatic berth in the 2007 Asian Champions League.

"I'm proud, not only of today's game, but the players have worked hard this past two years," Buchwald said.

"That is why, I believe, we were able to get the win.

"We've always finished within the top three (in the league) these past two years, but today we've finally reached the top."

It was the Reds' fifth Emperor's Cup triumph in the competition's 85-year history, with their previous four triumphs under the guise of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Urawa's dominance throughout the game left little doubt as to which way the contest would turn, but although the Shimizu backline creaked a few times in the first half Buchwald's troops had to bide their time before making the breakthrough.

On 39 minutes, Horinouchi pounced. Cho Jae Jin cleared the defender's header from a Robson Ponte corner off the line, but when Alessandro Santos returned the ball from the left a hungry Horinouchi got in front of Kazumichi Takagi and headed past 'keeper Yohei Nishibe.

The first goal settled any nerves Urawa had, and the Saitama-side's dominance continued into the second half. It seemed only a matter of time before the second goal and when it came it was a fine way for Maric to say goodbye, the striker almost certainly playing his last game for the club.

Makoto Hasebe started the move, flicking the ball to Brazilian-born Ponte, who exchanged passes with Takafumi Akahoshi before delivering a low cross from the right which Maric met with a sliding finish.

Ichikawa pulled one back for S-Pulse three minutes later when captain Nobuhisa Yamada's headed clearance from a Akihiro Hyodo free-kick fell to the substitute, who crashed the ball home from close range.

S-Pulse briefly threatened to take the game to extra-time, which considering Urawa's dominance would have been unjust, but any hopes Shimizu had were snuffed out when Hiramatsu received his marching orders.

He received his second yellow card in 5 minutes for dissent after a foul on Santos borne out of frustration.

He knew by then, just as the sell-out 51,536-crowd did, that this was destined to be Urawa's day.



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