SAITAMA – Naohiro Takahara flirted with his first J. League hat-trick in nine years as the former Japan striker scored twice in Shimizu S-Pulse’s 4-1 away thrashing of Omiya Ardija on Sunday.
Takahara, who signed with Shimizu over the winter following his sojourn in the K-League with Suwon Bluewings, netted in the space of nine second-half minutes to help Afshin Ghotbi’s side climb out of the relegation zone and up to 11th place.
Shimizu midfielder Alex Brosque opened the scoring late in the first half, and Shinji Tsujio struck the fourth for S-Pulse against Ardija, who went down a man midway through the second half at Nack5 Stadium after Lee Chun Soo was booked for a second time.
“I haven’t been starting much this season but I always prepared myself so I could be ready when I got the call,” said the 31-year-old Takahara. “I scored last weekend and just kind of picked up where I left off.”
Asked if he was after his first hat-trick since September 2002 when he was still with Jubilo Iwata, Takahara said, “I was hoping I could do it, but the fact that I couldn’t says I’m not all the way back yet.”
Ghotbi said it was just a matter of time before the goals started flowing for Takahara, the league’s 2002 MVP.
“He’s been progressing every week,” said Ghotbi, the former Iran national coach. “Takahara for the last few years has not played much so when a player is not playing, they miss that timing, that feeling of confidence — especially strikers.
“He’s such a great professional, the way he lives, the way he works, the way he trains. It was just matter of time when he was going to get that one goal, which he got last week.
“You saw it in the game today. The two goals he scored were fantastic goals and he could have scored a hat-trick. It’s nice to see a veteran player like him be reborn.”
In one other J1 game, Vegalta Sendai remained the division’s only unbeaten team with a 1-0 away win over Montedio Yamagata.
Naoki Sugai scored the lone goal of the match in the 53rd minute, putting away the rebound of a Makoto Kakuda header off the post for the three points.
Sendai, on 15 points from the first seven matches, trail leaders Kashiwa Reysol by a point. Yamagata, which has lost its last three, is next to last in the table with four points.
Uchida, Schalke win cup
Atsuto Uchida wrapped up a sparkling first season in the Bundesliga as Schalke hammered second-division Duisburg 5-0 to lift the German Cup for a fifth time on Saturday.
Julian Draxler opened the scoring and Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar completed the demolition with his second of the afternoon after goals from Jose Jurado and defender Benedikt Hoewedes.
Uchida, who has endured a grueling campaign, was limited to a cameo role, coming on with nine minutes left and the game already sewn up, but was nonetheless delighted to be on the pitch as Schalke secured the trophy.
“I’m grateful to have been able to get on at the end,” said Uchida. “It is great to win the cup.”
Uchida admitted he was running on empty after a busy season in which he helped Schalke reach the Champions League semifinals while also contributing to the national team’s success at the Asian Cup in Qatar in January.
“I have really been giving it my all and I just didn’t have the strength for one more full match,” said the former Kashima Antlers man. “It’s been a long season but it has gone by in a flash.”
Schalke manager Ralf Rangnick said he started Uchida on the bench because he could see the physical and mental toll this season has taken on him.
“Today was Schalke’s 52nd competitive match this season and I think Uchida has probably played more minutes than any other outfield player and if you add the Asian Cup he is the runaway leader.
“These past two or three weeks he has looked like he has reached his limit both physically and mentally and that is why I decided to start him on the bench today.”
Ronaldo sets record
Barcelona closed out its third straight league crown in style as a team made up mostly of reserves recovered for a 3-1 victory at Malaga on Saturday, while Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice in Real Madrid’s 8-1 thrashing of Almeria to set a Spanish league scoring record.
While the top two both finished off with victories, Deportivo La Coruna lost 2-0 to Valencia to be relegated into the second division for the first time in 20 years, joining Hercules and Almeria.
Deportivo was among six teams at risk of going down on the final day and Aritz Aduritz’s fourth-minute goal left it in a desperate situation early at El Rizaor Stadium. Roberto Soldado added the second goal in the final seconds.
Deportivo, which won one league and two Copa del Rey trophies after coming up in 1991, set a record for relegated teams with 43 points.
“We tried everything, what more can we do? We created chances but the ball didn’t want to go in,” said Deportivo forward Juan Carlos Valeron.
Zaragoza ensured it stayed up with a 2-1 win at Levante, Getafe and Real Sociedad both remained after a 1-1 draw, and Osasuna beat Villarreal 1-0 to ensure its spot.
At the Santiago Bernabeu, Ronaldo poked home after just four minutes to break the record before striking again in the 77th with a hard shot past goalkeeper Esteban Suarez to set a new mark of 40 goals in a single season. Ronaldo had shared the mark of 38 with Athletic Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra and Madrid’s Hugo Sanchez, the league scoring leaders from the 1950-51 and 1989-90 seasons.