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If ever there was a cup hero for Shimizu S-Pulse it was Shohei Ikeda. Ikeda scored the winning goal for Shimizu in the Asian Cup Winners Cup two years ago and repeated that feat by slotting home the penalty that clinched the 2002 Xerox Super Cup at Tokyo National Stadium on Saturday.

However, substitute and teammate Takayuki Yokoyama may argue with this judgment, as he was the one who scored a dramatic equalizer deep into injury time to earn his team the right to contest the penalty shootout, which Shimizu won 5-4.

Kashima Antlers can take consolation in the fact that in last year’s Xerox Cup — that sees the winner of the J. League take on the winner of the Emperor’s Cup — they were on the receiving of a hiding from Shimizu, yet went on to win the J. League Championship.

“It was a difficult game which was proved by the large number of yellow cards (10) that were issued,” said Shimizu coach Zdravko Zemunovic. “We started the game well but then Kashima started to take control of the game halfway through the first half. Fortunately our defense was solid.

“Our players didn’t give up and played to the end. Kashima played better than us but our determination helped us win.”

The first half was a dull affair that drew more yawns than gasps from the 34,500 in attendance. It was punctuated by poor first touches, wayward passing and a lack of cohesion by either side, both revealing their early-season rustiness.

Most alarming however was the performance of referee Toru Kamikawa, who appeared to be officiating with blinkers on.

Shimizu’s Alessandro Santos (the player formerly known as “Alex”) was the main beneficiary of Kamikawa’s ineptness, when he should have been sent off in the last minute of the first half after a blatant dive in the penalty area. No penalty was given, which should have left the referee with no alternative but to show Alex his second yellow card and give him his marching orders. A numbing experience awaits as Kamikawa has been selected as a World Cup referee.

Kashima took the lead in the 68th minute after a bizarre incident in which Kamikawa made one of his few correct decisions during the match.

Shimizu goalkeeper Takaya Kurokawa seemed to think that the referee had blown for a free-kick inside the penalty area and placed the ball on the ground when in fact the whistle had not been blown. Alert Antlers midfielder Masashi Motoyama seized the opportunity and slotted the ball into an empty net. Despite Shimizu’s protests, the goal was allowed to stand.

Shimizu then pushed forward in search of an equalizer and left gaps in defense as a result.

Antlers squandered a number of opportunities to seal the match in the final 15 minutes with national team forward Takayuki Suzuki the most wasteful of the Antlers forwards.

In the 74th minute Suzuki found himself unmarked in the penalty area with a free header and only the keeper to beat. His failure to even make decent contact with the ball would have added a few wrinkles to the brow of watching Japan coach Philippe Troussier who would have fancied himself to have put the chance away.

Kashima was made to pay for its poor finishing.

In the third minute of time added on, Koji Nakata, who had been solid in midfield for Kashima, got sent off for his second yellow card after a challenge far tamer than ones that had previously gone unpunished. Alex sent over a free-kick from the right and Yokoyama glanced in a header for the equalizer.

Yutaka Akita and Tomohiko Ikeuchi missed penalties for Kashima while Kohei Hiramatsu failed to convert for Shimizu.

Hoping for a spot in Japan’s World Cup starting lineup, Alex did a lot to impress Troussier. He looked dangerous going forward, sent over some accurate crosses and most importantly for Troussier, helped the team out in defense.

“We played hard, attacked and created good chances but couldn’t win it which is disappointing,” explained Antlers coach Toninho Cerezo.

“Our players were tired both physically and mentally. We have played four big matches in the last week (referring to the Asian Club Championship games played in Korea). Nevertheless, I was happy with the team’s performance considering.”

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