Seiichiro Maki bounced back from the heartache of seeing his goal disallowed in the last minute of normal time to fire in the winning spot-kick as JEF United Chiba beat Gamba Osaka after a penalty shootout to win the J. League Nabisco Cup on Saturday afternoon.
JEF struck a perfect five penalties in front of the Chiba faithful at Tokyo’s National Stadium to punish Yasuhito Endo — who missed Gamba’s first penalty — and trigger delirious celebrations.
The victory gave JEF its first-ever trophy, the nearest it had got before was a 4-0 loss to Jubilo Iwata in the 1998 final.
“Don’t congratulate me, congratulate the players,” coach Ivica Osim said. “It’s a big moment in their careers.”
“I told them if they didn’t concede a goal they’d get their chance and that’s how it turned out,” he said.
JEF, fourth in the J. League five points behind leader Gamba, inflicted a third defeat in a row for the Osaka side, and its second over Gamba this season.
The Chiba side looked like it had stolen victory in the 90th minute when leading scorer Maki popped up to bundle the ball into the Gamba goal.
But as the 25 year old wheeled away to celebrate, referee Kazuhiko Matsumura broke the JEF fans’ hearts by disallowing the goal for an infringement.
The goal that never was turned the final on its head, though, as before that incident Gamba had just cause to think it was going to win the coveted cup.
Gamba controlled large swathes of normal time, even though it was missing the calming influence of captain Tsuneyasu Miyamoto for much of the game.
With both clubs’ trophy cabinets empty — indeed, this was Gamba’s first final appearance — a nervy edge to proceedings was to be expected.
“There was very high tension among the players,” Gamba coach Akira Nishino said.
Gamba was the more adventurous in the first 20 minutes, with JEF content to defend deep against the feared Fernandinho-Masashi Oguro-Araujo attacking triumvirate.
When Gamba finally found an opening, it was free of the delightful intricacy that makes up much of the aforementioned trio’s forward play.
But when Brazilian defender Sidiclei’s lofted ball over the JEF defense set Oguro free, the Japan international dragged the ball across the goal.
If JEF’s nerves were still jangling, Gamba seemed to relax, with the murderously quick Araujo drawing a good save from Tomonori Tateishi after bamboozling Chiba’s defense with a tricky run.
But, for all of Gamba’s attacking verve, the team failed to test Tateishi for the rest of the half. Fernandinho and Oguro were both guilty of failing to hit the target, with foot and head respectively.
Missing the suspended Austrian striker Mario Haas, it was up to talisman Yuki Abe — having hitherto contributed nothing to the spectacle — and Gabriel Popescu to rouse the Chiba side.
The Romanian’s intelligent play in particular slowly brought JEF out of its shell either side of halftime.
After a sustained period of pressure, Popescu gave Gamba ‘keeper Yosuke Fujigaya his first test on 61 minutes when his long range, left-shot effort was clawed away.
As tiredness crept in among the players, the game opened up, making for heart-stopping entertainment for the 45,039 fans.
Tateishi was kept busy in the last 10 minutes, keeping out a 30-meter Araujo blockbuster and tipping over an Endo free-kick before a fantastic double save to deny Endo and an Araujo followup in the 89th minute.
As Gamba’s minds turned toward extra-time, JEF launched a last desperate counterattack and Maki, whose influence grew as the game progressed, scrambled the ball over the Gamba goal line.
Maki’s moment of glory, though, had to wait. The referee had spotted a mystery foul and disallowed the goal to JEF’s dismay.
Buoyed by that attack, JEF came out stronger in extra-time, with Gamba’s play now lacking its previous zip.
First, Maki flashed a shot wide before Yuto Sato’s went agonizingly close as the Chiba fans held their collective breath.
Gamba’s players’ minds were willing, but bodies weak. Their sustained efforts in normal time were now coming back to haunt them, with cramp creeping up on a number of them.
“I hadn’t thought the players’ legs would stop like that,” Nishino said.
By the end of the 30 minutes extra-time, Gamba was praying for penalties. That it got, but it was the boys from Chiba, to the Osaka team’s deep sorrow, who held their nerves and clinched the Cup.
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