The Urawa Reds completely outclassed the more experienced and more fancied Kashima Antlers 4-0 at the National Stadium on Monday to lift the Nabisco Cup and their first-ever title.
Two goals by Brazilian forward Emerson and a goal apiece for Koji Yamase and game MVP Tatsuya Tanaka sealed a deserved victory for the Reds, sending their massive army of fans delirious in the stands.
“This is for the fans,” said Reds manager Hans Ooft. “They are first class and unbelievable.
“Today was the result of one year of hard work,” Ooft added. “Last year was a cleaning process and this year we brought in a couple of new players, so this is very satisfying.”
The Reds had the ball in the back of the net as early as the third minute, when Emerson sidefooted home from close range only for the referee to rule the goal offside.
Ten minutes later the Reds again found the net and this time the goal counted.
A cross from the right from midfielder Hideki Uchidate was met with a looping header by Yamase with Japan national team goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata caught in no man’s land.
With Australian Nedijeljko Zelic and Russian Yuri Nikorov controlling things from the back, Urawa’s midfield was allowed space to be creative in midfield.
The one-touch link play between midfielders Nobuhisa Yamada, Uchidate and Yamase will no doubt have caught the eye of Japan coach Zico watching in the stands and their dominance was such that the Antlers’ first-half chances were reduced to a couple of poorly taken free-kicks from just outside the box.
Just before halftime, play was held up for five minutes when Emerson and teammate Keisuke Tsuboi clashed heads going up for a header.
Both were stretchered off the field, blood dripping from their heads but, in what typified the spirited performance of the Reds, both returned to resume the battle.
In fact Emerson’s injury appeared to inspire the striker as he came out from the halftime break to score two well-taken goals.
The first came in the 48th minute when he latched onto a through ball from the midfield, showed great pace to slip the ball past Sogahata and even greater composure to round the last line of defense in Go Oiwa and slot the ball into the empty net.
It was this goal that took the wind out of Kashima’s sails.
Eight minutes later, the Antlers’ ship was well and truly sunk after a brilliant solo effort from Tanaka that made it 3-0. Tanaka raced down the left, beat two defenders before rifling home an unstoppable shot past the lunging Sogahata.
The Antlers’ problems went from bad to worse in the 60th minute when Mitsuo Ogasawara was sent off for a second yellow card, allowing the Reds to use their numerical advantage to play ball-keep for the rest of the game.
There was still time left for Emerson to add insult to injury with a fourth goal in the 86th minute after Sogahata allowed his tame shot to slip through his gloves and into the goal.
It was a game that Sogahata and the Antlers will need to erase from their memories in order to refocus on their challenge for the J. League title. But for the Reds this title will give them a timely boost.
“Winning today will give us confidence for the rest of the season,” said Tanaka, downplaying the significance of his personal accolade.
“To score in our first title win is obviously very pleasing, but I didn’t get it on my own. It was a team effort and I’m looking forward to us all having as big celebration,” he added.
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