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Sunday, Dec. 3, 2006

Reds reign supreme in J. League

Beat Gamba Osaka 3-2 to capture first title before 62,241 crowd


Staff writer

SAITAMA -- Urawa Reds clinched their first-ever J. League championship on the final day of the season after beating Gamba Osaka 3-2 in front of 62,241 fans at Saitama Stadium.

News photo
Urawa captain Nobuhisa Yamada lifts the championship shield while surrounded by his teammates after the Reds beat Gamba Osaka 3-2 at Saitama Stadium on the final day of the season Saturday to clinch their first-ever J. League championship. KYODO PHOTO

A brilliant goal from Robson Ponte and two for Washington in Saturday's game canceled out Magno Alves' early strike and extinguished the faint hopes Gamba had of repeating last year's title triumph.

Satoshi Yamaguchi scored a late consolation.

Reds boss Guido Buchwald and his assistant Gert Engels embraced at the referee's final whistle, surrounded by photographers and cameramen.

Buchwald said afterward his players didn't take anything for granted going into the game.

"We had a big advantage coming in to this game but the players were extremely nervous and made a lot of mistakes early on," Buchwald said.

"Gamba started tremendously well and our players forgot to play football at the beginning. They were much too focused on defense and there was too little running off the ball. But then Gamba's goal shook us up and after that we were able to turn the game around.

"I have no complaints about our teamwork today."

Urawa, unbeaten at home all season, finished top with 72 points, while Gamba dropped to third on 66.

Kawasaki Frontale pipped Gamba for second place by one point after beating Cerezo Osaka 3-1, a result that relegated the Osakans and completed their fall from grace after going so close to winning the J1 title ahead of Gamba in 2005.

In the end, this year's much talked about goal difference of Urawa and Gamba mattered little.

The visitors had to win by three clear goals to steal the title from under the Reds' noses, and it proved to be an impossible task in front of a mammoth crowd that didn't quite manage to beat the J. League record of 64,899 who crammed into Nissan Stadium for Yokohama F. Marinos vs. Urawa in December 2004.

The Reds have not been quickest of teams out of the blocks this season, but they were the ones who threatened first on a bracing afternoon in Saitama.

But when Nobuhisa Yamada flicked on a cross from the right, Washington saw his point-blank header brilliantly saved by Naoki Matsuyo.

Urawa reverted to type after this chance and the contest appeared to be taking the shape many feared it would: the home team sitting back, winding down the clock and grinding down the oppositions' hopes.

But on 22 minutes, the game sprung to life.

Ryuji Bando, returning from injury, roared into box from the right and crossed for Alves to score with an outrageous flick with his right foot into the far corner.

One down, two to go for Gamba, and an onslaught from the visitors was now to be expected.

But although Bando was looking extremely lively and had a shot saved minutes later, Alves' goal had a more galvanizing effect on Urawa.

The equalizer came on 27 minutes.

Washington picked up the ball on a Reds' counterattack and threaded a delightful pass through to Ponte running in from the right.

Ponte nicked the ball past Sidiclei, who was rushing over from the right to cover, and the Brazilian forward steered the ball past Matsuyo into the far corner.

It was hammer blow to the Osakans' chances and things got worse, once more courtesy of the Ponte-Washington partnership.

Ex-Karlsruhe star Ponte gathered the ball on the right of the Gamba penalty area in first-half injury time and managed to whip in a cross to the lurking Washington, who lashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Any lingering doubts about the destination of the title trophy were snuffed out on the hour mark.

Alex sent in an inswinging cross from the right to the far post, where Marcus Tulio Tanaka met the ball with a header across goal into the path of Washington, who guided a simple header out of Matsuyo's reach.

The goal pulled Washington level with Alves as the league's top scorer, both on 26.

But, for all his endeavors, Washington could not find the hat trick goal that would have put him clear of his fellow Brazilian.

This was one title that would have to be shared between Urawa and Gamba.

All that was left was for Yamaguchi to score a diving header on 79 minutes, but there was to be no repeat of the last-gasp miracles of the previous season.

The J. League championship, at long last, was Urawa's.

Cerezo relegated

Cerezo Osaka was relegated from J1 on Saturday after losing 3-1 at home to Kawasaki Frontale.

The Osakans, who missed out on the J1 title to local rival Gamba on the last day the 2005 season, dropped down to J2 courtesy of a worse goal difference than relegation-rival Avispa Fukuoka, which also finished on 27 points.

Avispa drew 1-1 with Ventforet Kofu and now has to face Vissel Kobe in a two-leg promotion-relegation playoff next week.

Kashiwa Reysol beat Vissel to the second automatic promotion spot in J2.

FC Yokohama was already promoted to J1, while Kyoto Purple Sanga had already been demoted to J2.

In other J1 games, Paulo Autuori's last league game as Kashima Antlers coach ended with a 3-0 victory over Jubilo Iwata, while Yokohama F. Marinos beat JEF United Chiba 2-0 at Fukuda Denchi Arena.

Omiya Ardija won 2-1 away to Albirex Niigata and Shimizu S-Pulse beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-0 at home.



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