Teenage defender Michihiro Yasuda proved the hero with a second-half winner as Gamba Osaka edged Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 on Saturday to claim their first Nabisco Cup.

News photoKawasaki Midfielder Kengo Nakamura (14) falls down after taking a tackle from a Gamba Osaka player in the
first half in the J. League Nabisco Cup final at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Gamba
edged Frontale 1-0 for its first Cup title before a crowd of 41,569.

Yasuda’s goal came on 56 minutes at National Stadium when Brazilian striker Bare rolled in a low cross from the right that continued to the far post, where the 19-year-old was on hand to slide in and divert the ball into the net from close range.

Gamba forward Magno Alves went close to doubling the lead twice in the dying stages, first with a fearsome shot that rattled the post and then with a low left-foot strike that trundled past the same upright.

“I told Yasuda at halftime to score a goal or lay one on. It’s nice to win this trophy after going so close in 2005,” said Gamba coach Akira Nishino.

Naturally, Yasuda was ecstatic after the match.

“This is just the greatest day of my life and I still can’t believe it,” a beaming Yasuda said.

“I spoke with my wife a few days ago and was saying how good it would be if we won and it was me that got the winner. I didn’t really expect it to happen,” he said.

The well-deserved victory in front of 41,569 fans gave Gamba, which lost to JEF United Chiba on penalties in their previous final, a winner’s check for ¥100 million and softened the blow of another domestic season largely overshadowed by the exploits of Urawa Reds.

The Reds, seven points clear with four games to go, look likely to retain their league crown ahead of second-placed Gamba, and are contesting the AFC Champions League final next week. Nishino will be hoping his men can build on their league cup success and challenge the hegemony of Urawa next year.

“Today’s win has given us renewed motivation in the league because we are still not completely out of the title race,” Yasuda said.

It was Frontale, runners-up to Kashima Antlers in their previous final appearance in 2000, who flew out of the blocks on a crispy afternoon in Tokyo.

Brazilian striker Juninho, was the first to test Yosuke Fujigaya with a fierce shot that the Gamba ‘keeper beat out.

Moments later, Shuhei Terada twice went close with headers from Masahiro Ohashi’s corners, his first bouncing over the bar and the second gathered by Fujigaya. For a short while at least, the Gamba defense was in disarray when defending set pieces.

Juninho was looking the pick of the bunch and made Gamba center-back Sidiclei look every one of his 35 years on more than one occasion. Still, Frontale couldn’t find a proper opening and Gamba took the opportunity to try to make its way back into the game.

Brazilian strikers Magno Alves and Bare were having little effect so it fell to midfielders Yasuhito Endo and Takahiro Futagawa to probe for an opening.

Futagawa had a case for a penalty near the end of the first half after racing through and being upended by Fujigawa, but referee Toshimitsu Yoshida ruled the ‘keeper’s challenge fair.

Gamba had finished the first half on the attack and continued in the same vein in the second period, although it was Kawasaki that had the first chance when Juninho broke clear and lashed in a low shot that Fujigaya got down well to save.

The breakthrough finally came through ex-Gamba Osaka Youth player Yasuda and the goal inevitably opened up the game as Frontale pursued an equalizer, but it was to no avail, despite the best efforts of Juninho, by far Kawasaki’s best player on the day. Gamba claimed its first Nabisco title, Frontale will have to wait at least another year for theirs.

Stojkovic hopeful

BELGRADE (Kyodo) Dragan Stojkovic said Friday he wants former team Nagoya Grampus Eight to reconsider their decision not to hire him as manager of the J. League first-division outfit.

The 42-year-old former Yugoslavia international was the leading candidate to replace Dutchman Sef Vergoossen, who will step down as Nagoya boss at the end of this season.

But Nagoya scrapped plans to appoint Stojkovic after finding out that the Serbian’s coaching qualifications did not meet the requirements to manage a J. League club and said Tuesday it would not be hiring him in any other capacity.

But speaking in a telephone interview, Stojkovic said, “I want to return to Nagoya.”

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