Shinji Ono ensured Guido Buchwald has the grandest stage of all at which to say his goodbyes as Urawa coach by scoring one goal and creating another for Robson Ponte as the Reds advanced to the Emperor’s Cup final with a 2-1 victory over Kashima Antlers on Friday.
It was a scrappy performance at Tokyo’s National Stadium by the Reds, who were lucky to beat a Kashima side determined to make sure the last game for its own departing coach, Paulo Autuori, would be the final, but Ono’s brilliance was the telling factor on either side of Toru Araiba’s equalizer.
The final, also at National Stadium, on New Year’s Day at 2 p.m. against Gamba Osaka, which beat Consadole Sapporo 2-1 in the other semifinal, will be Buchwald’s last game as Reds coach before he returns to Germany.
If Urawa retains the cup it won last year against Shimizu S-Pulse, the German’s legacy will be a delightful double: the Reds beat Gamba 3-2 on the final day of the J.League season earlier this month to clinch the title.
Beneath a brilliant sunshine — in the first period of a game dominated for long periods by Kashima — Keita Suzuki pounced upon a loose ball on 41 minutes with urgency hitherto unseen from a lethargic Reds and the midfielder found Ono loitering on the left side of the penalty area.
The 27-year-old Ono’s litany of injuries may have robbed him of a lot of his pace, painfully evident when he struggled to reach a through ball early in the match. And his ravaged knees and ankles may not be able to cope with the rigors of a full season in the J. League, but in one sweep of the right foot the midfielder proved he still possesses the keenest of footballing brains as he curled the ball around Hitoshi Sogahata and into the far corner.
Ono’s strike followed a two-goal performance in the quarterfinal victory over Jubilo Iwata.
A bit-part player in Urawa’s league triumph, he is making a rather impressive cameo in the season-ending cup, partly due to Reds missing a number of key players.
Absentees included defender Alex Santos, allowed to pack his bags early for his move to Austria’s Salzburg, as well as the J. League’s joint-top scorer, Washington, and player of the year, Marcus Tulio Tanaka, who were rumored to be recuperating in Brazil after their feats in the regular season.
“We knew this would be a tough game because Kashima wanted to finish the season with a title and we were missing some players,” the 45-year-old Buchwald said.
“We knew it would be difficult to start afresh for a new competition after winning the league but the players have stayed motivated. We are in the final and we must defend our crown.”
Perhaps buoyed when confronted by a weakened Reds lineup, the impressive Antlers created a host of chances in open play to both go ahead in the first half — Takuya Nozawa and Fabio Santos going close — and equalize in the second.
But when their goal came it was a fortuitous piece of finishing from a set piece. Nozawa floated in the ball from the left on 70 minutes and Araiba’s mistimed header meant the ball bounced off his back and past Ryota Tsuzuki.
Antlers pressed for the winner and went close to getting it courtesy of a curling shot from Masashi Motoyama that was a whisker away, but it was the invention of Ono once again that was to be the undoing of them.
Ponte raced forward on 83 minutes and shunted the ball forward to Ono, who nonchalantly flicked the ball back into the path of the Brazilian, whose shot deflected off Takeshi Aoki and past a flat-footed Sogahata.
For coach Paulo Autuori it was a disappointing end to his first and only season in the Kashima hot seat.
The 50-year-old coach leaves Japan unable to add an Emperor’s Cup winner’s medal to a collection that includes two from the Libertadores Cup and one from the Club World Championship.
The sanguine Autuori, however, didn’t seem to be too surprised at Friday’s outcome after a year where little has gone right for the Brazilian.
“It has been the story of our season,” he said. “We started well and made chances but couldn’t score. We have made mistakes, conceded goals and our confidence went. Ponte’s goal might have been a bit lucky but the difference is he took his chance and we didn’t.”
FC Tokyo striker
FC Tokyo has signed former Costa Rica and Manchester City striker Paulo Wanchope, the J. League first-division side announced on Friday.
The 30-year-old Wanchope is his country’s leading scorer with 45 goals. He scored two of them against host Germany in the opening game of this summer’s World Cup finals.
Wanchope also had spells at Derby County in England and Spanish club Malaga and most recently Argentinean club Rosario Central.
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