TODOROKI, Kanagawa Pref. — Gamba Osaka clinched its first-ever J. League championship on a dramatic final day of the season Saturday, beating Kawasaki Frontale 4-2 as Cerezo Osaka conceded a last-gasp equalizer to FC Tokyo that denied it the title.
Gamba started the day one point behind Cerezo, with Cerezo knowing a win would clinch the title no matter what happened elsewhere.
With 89 minutes on the clock, Gamba was beating Frontale 3-2 at Kawasaki Todoroki Stadium, but Cerezo was 2-1 ahead at Nagai Stadium. The title appeared to be Cerezo’s.
But then a buzz started to spread around the Todoroki ground — word had it that FC Tokyo had scored an equalizer. Pockets of Gamba fans began celebrating, while others refused to believe what they were hearing. It needed the eruption of the Gamba bench at the news to trigger delirium among the traveling faithful.
The Gamba players quickly realized what had happened.
Almost immediately, the team surged forward and Brazilian forward Araujo scored his second goal to make it 4-2, adding to goals from Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Yasuhito Endo, and securing the win.
The players headed en masse to celebrate with the heaving throng of fans behind the goal. Bare-chested Gamba diehards broke through barriers in front of the stand and spilled on to the running track to celebrate with their heroes.
All that was left was for the game to restart so the referee could blow the final whistle. Then the wild celebrations really started as it was confirmed the Cerezo-FC Tokyo game had finished tied.
“What we aimed for has paid off. I give credit to my players,” ecstatic Gamba manager Akira Nishino said.
“We dropped the last three games so we didn’t want to finish the season losing. I feel like we have finally done it, with a lot of support from the fans we have achieved the feat today.”
Gamba, which had lost five of the last six league matches before yesterday, twice threw away the lead.
Araujo, who finished as the league’s top scorer with 33 goals, put the Osakans in front in the 12th minute with a stunning strike into the top left-hand corner, but Shuhei Terada equalized on 37 minutes.
Miyamoto then scored a brilliant looping header in the 56th minute before Hiroyuki Taniguchi’s strike again pegged Gamba back.
The day began to go Gamba’s way on 79 minutes. Fernandinho, sent off four minutes later for dissent, was fouled in the area and Endo coolly slotted home the penalty to make it 3-2 and set up an astonishing final 10 minutes.
Gamba captain Miyamoto, with tears streaming down his face, was stunned at winning the title.
“It almost slipped from our hands, but today, when we heard Cerezo were tied in the last minute, we couldn’t believe it, ” he said.
Endo talked about putting things right on the day that mattered.
“We lost these past league games, but we were not playing badly. Today we entered the game trying to enjoy it,” Endo said.
In front of nearly 44,000 fans at Nagai Stadium, things looked to be going fine for Cerezo when Akinori Nishizawa scored after only three minutes. FC Tokyo equalized before Nishizawa scored again in the 48th minute.
But Yasuyuki Konno broke the Cerezo players’ hearts with a late equalizer to send the title to Suita City, Gamba’s home town.
Gamba finished the season on 60 points from 34 games, one point ahead of Cerezo. But with the other three teams that had a chance of claiming the title winning Cerezo ended up in fifth position.
Urawa Reds beat Albirex Niigata 4-0 for second place, Kashima Antlers won 4-0 against Kashiwa Reysol for third and JEF United Chiba beat Nagoya Grampus Eight 2-1 for fourth spot.
Those results were in vain, though. The day belonged to Gamba. Champions for the first time.
Miyamoto summed up what it meant to the club: “This is a huge victory for the Gamba organization — for us to make the club bigger from now on.”
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