Kashiwa Reysol completed their domestic trophy collection under manager Nelsinho with a resilient 1-0 victory over Urawa Reds in the Nabisco Cup final on Saturday.
Man of the match Masato Kudo headed home the lone goal in first-half injury time as Kashiwa lifted the league cup for the second time, its first since their only other trip to the final in 1999.
Since Nelsinho arrived in July 2009, Reysol have won both divisions in the J. League, the Emperor’s Cup and now the Nabisco Cup.
“I’ve been with this group of players for 4½ years,” Nelsinho said. “But they’ve always been good listeners and are always disciplined.
“Through all we have experienced as a team, the boys are much tougher now mentally. Each and every individual knows to stick to whatever game plan we have.
“My approach to managing is very simple: Respect the players and get them to respect you. As long as the mutual respect is there, you can accomplish any mission.”
The two teams had met in the J. League a week ago, when Reds won 2-1 at home. Nelsinho paid the ultimate respect to his opposite number, Mihailo Petrovic.
“The winners always get all the attention in a final, but the Urawa Reds team under Petrovic is the most difficult side I’ve ever faced in my career,” Nelsinho said. “He is a fantastic manager and it’s an honor to be coaching in the same league as him.”
The opening half of the last final at the National Stadium — the ground will undergo renovation for the 2020 Olympics next year — was a test of patience for the two teams as well as the sellout crowd of 46,675, who had to brave a largely inactive 45 minutes.
Missing captain Hidekazu Otani as well as defenders Daisuke Suzuki and Wataru Hashimoto, Reysol made not conceding a priority, keeping it squeaky tight at the back.
A pair of soft headers by Reds’ Shinzo Koroki and Tadaaki Hirakawa was the only shots on target by either side until Kudo broke the deadlock just before the halftime whistle.
Moments after Jorge Wagner buzzed the right-hand post with a drive from the edge of the box, Masato Fujita picked out Kudo streaking through the area with a laser beam of a right-wing cross.
Kudo not only did well to time his nod by the far post, but had veteran goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi completely wrong-footed by spotting his header in the opposite corner, against the flow of play.
The pace picked up in the second half, when desperate Reds were forced to take the game to Reysol.
One minute to the hour, Yosuke Kashiwagi latched on to a through ball from Keita Suzuki down the middle of the park, but was foiled by Kashiwa custodian Takanori Sugeno in the nick of time.
Urawa continued to see more time on the ball, yet their monotonous approach down the left wing through Tomoaki Makino and Genki Haraguchi did not provide the answer.
Koroki’s stoppage-time goal from a scramble was waived offside, and Kashiwa’s title-winning experience saw them through to the end in the drizzling rain as the Chiba club stocked the only piece of silverware missing under Nelsinho.
Petrovic, who was on the verge of capturing his first title in his seventh year in Japan, said he quizzed the referee about the offside decision. The Reds boss added he would quickly turn his focus toward the J. League.
Reds are two points off the pace of Yokohama F. Marinos with four matches left in the season. Urawa is away to Vegalta Sendai next weekend.
“I asked the referee whether Koroki was offside or not, and he said he was confident of the decision,” Petrovic said.
“o make the decision he did, when the stadium was 70 to 80 percent full of Urawa fans, takes a lot of courage — a lot. In Germany, he would be putting his career on the line.
“We still have four games left in the league. The grieving ends after today, and we need to regroup right away.”