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Sunday, Nov. 2, 2008

Trinita capture Nabisco Cup for first-ever title

Staff writer

Oita Trinita's fairy tale season continued with a 2-0 Nabisco Cup final win over Shimizu S-Pulse on Saturday to give the modest Kyushu club its first-ever silverware.

News photo
Battle for the title: Oita Trinita defender Taikai Uemoto (left) tries to take the ball from Shimizu S-Pulse forward Shinji Okazaki during the first half of the Nabisco Cup final at Tokyo's National Stadium on Saturday. Trinita won 2-0. KYODO PHOTO

Second-half goals from Daiki Takamatsu and Ueslei were enough to give Trinita a well-deserved victory at National Stadium, passing the first milestone in what could turn out to be an unbelievably rewarding year for a side that finished 14th in the J. League in 2007.

Oita's fortunes since then are almost unrecognizable — currently two points off the top of the league table with just four games left to play, and now a trophy in the cabinet as concrete proof of the strides the team has made under manager Pericles Chamusca.

"We are a team that isn't accustomed to being in the leading pack," Chamusca said after the match. "We have had some hard times, so today's win is indescribably important for everyone at the club.

"When I say we aren't a team that can aim for titles, I mean in terms of money and history, but as far as the players are concerned, they are good enough to have these ambitions. We have been able to bring out the best in them.

"It is the first title for a Kyushu team ever, and it will have a very big impact not just in Kyushu but across Japan. It should help to improve football everywhere, and it shows that football has already improved in Kyushu."

S-Pulse manager Kenta Hasegawa blamed himself for the defeat.

"We did everything we could to prepare for this game, and we went all out to win it," he said. "The fact that we didn't win shows that I am still not strong enough as a manager. . . . And I feel very apologetic about that."

Despite Trinita's defensive reputation, it was S-Pulse that was content to sit back and soak up the pressure as the game got under way.

The plan almost backfired in the 20th minute when Oita's Daisuke Takahashi slammed a header toward goal from a corner, forcing a magnificent save from goalkeeper Kaito Yamamoto before Roberto hit the post with the rebound from a tight angle.

Mu Kanazaki should have done better with a clear sight on goal five minutes later, and Kazumichi Takagai went close for S-Pulse as the game began to open up after a cagey start.

Edmilson took down Shinji Okazaki on the edge of the box in the 32nd minute, and from the resulting free kick Masaki Yamamoto cracked a shot at goal that took a deflection off S-Pulse teammate Kazuki Hara's back and almost crept inside the post.

Trinita retreated into bunker mode as the pendulum began to swing in Shimizu's favor, leaving just Ueslei alone in attack. With the 36-year-old refusing to even contemplate breaking into a jog in search of the ball, it was left to Kanazaki and Edmilson to take pot-shots on goal before the first half came to a close.

S-Pulse kept up the momentum after the break, but it was Ueslei who went closest when he stung Yamamoto's fingertips with a vicious drive from outside the area on the hour mark.

That was the cue for Trinita to haul itself back into the match, and in the 69th minute Takamatsu crowned the revival with a well-taken goal. Kanazawa crossed from the right, and he rose above his marker to plant a firm header low into the corner.

Takamatsu almost made it two after a mazy run by Ueslei, but Trinita's real focus was on protecting its lead as S-Pulse substitute Yasuhito Yajima rolled a shot agonizingly wide of the post with five minutes to go.

But Edmilson and Roberto fought like dogs in midfield to make sure Shimizu's late charge was not the all-out onslaught it could have been, and Ueslei put the icing on the cake when he latched onto a low cross in injury time to roll the ball under Yamamoto, and seal what Chamusca must hope is just the first trophy in a year to remember.

Ballack still captain

FRANKFURT (AP) Michael Ballack will remain Germany's captain after apologizing for and settling his differences with coach Joachim Loew during a private talk.

The German football federation took nearly 24 hours to give a statement on the meeting that took place Thursday evening at its headquarters in Frankfurt.

"Michael Ballack remains my captain," Loew said in the statement Friday. "But even as captain he has to respect our rules."

Ballack caused an uproar last week when he used a newspaper interview to publicly criticize Loew's selection of players for the national team and accuse the coach of showing disrespect to some older players.

Loew reacted by requesting the Chelsea midfielder to explain his statements in person. Ballack flew to Frankfurt with Chelsea's permission on a private jet Thursday and returned to London immediately after the meeting with Loew.

The federation said Ballack and Loew had "established a basis of mutual trust for future cooperation" after Ballack's apology cleared the way to resolve the dispute.

"I realized that it was not proper to go public," Ballack said.

"I apologized to Joachim Loew for that. He is the coach, he makes the decisions and we all have to accept them.

"I have no doubt after the talk that we will achieve our common goals in a good atmosphere in the national team," the 32-year-old Ballack added.

Loew said he was pleased that Ballack was staying on as captain and that he was available "to help us achieve our common goals" in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

The coach praised Ballack as an "excellent national team player" who had a major role in recent successes, such as third place at the 2006 World Cup at home.

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