Defending champions Kashima Antlers held their nerve to clinch the 2008 J. League title with a 1-0 win over Consadole Sapporo on Saturday.

Antlers began the final day of the season needing just a draw to secure the championship, but Takuya Nozawa’s first-half strike at Sapporo Dome made sure the trophy would head back to Kashima for a record sixth time.

“I will remember this moment as one of the best of my life,” Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira said after the match. “It is a very hard thing to win a championship twice in a row, but we have done it and it gives me a sense of real achievement.

“When things start going badly you can’t just turn things around straight away. It is a matter of working every day all through the season, maintaining a degree of stability. That is what counts.”

Kawasaki Frontale finished as runnerup, leapfrogging Nagoya Grampus with a 2-0 win over Tokyo Verdy while Dragan Stojkovic’s men could only manage a 0-0 draw at Oita Trinita.

Frontale’s only hope of winning the league was to beat Verdy by at least three goals and hope results elsewhere went their way.

The club almost kept up its side of the bargain, with goals from Renatinho and Kengo Nakamura after Juninho had missed a first-half penalty, but manager Tsutomu Takahata had few complaints about his side’s final position.

“We started attacking but the goals didn’t come,” he said. “We were good enough to win the title, I think, but over the season I understand that second place is a very appropriate finish.”

While Nozawa’s early goal effectively killed off the race at the top of the table, there was a great deal more drama at the other end.

JEF United Chiba, starting the day knowing only victory over FC Tokyo coupled with defeats for Verdy and Jubilo Iwata would save it from automatic relegation, looked dead and buried when Tokyo took a 2-0 lead at Fukuda Denshi Arena.

But as Verdy and Jubilo fell behind in their games against Frontale and Omiya Ardija, respectively, JEF embarked on an incredible 11-minute scoring spree to finish 4-2 winners and snatch safety after a season-long battle against the drop.

That fate instead went to Verdy, which was reduced to 10 men in the 27th minute at Ajinomoto Stadium when Takashi Fukunishi saw red for a clumsy tackle on Chong Tese.

“It is a very sad result for us,” said Verdy manager Tetsuji Hashiratani. “I have nothing to say because the fact is that we have gone down.

“The sending-off was the most damaging thing. The players gave their all but it wasn’t enough.”

Jubilo, meanwhile, dropped into the relegation/promotion playoff spot after its 1-0 loss to Ardija. Iwata’s opponent will be Vegalta Sendai, who clinched third place in J2 earlier in the day with a 1-0 win over Thespa Kusatsu.

Urawa Reds’ nightmare year ended with a 6-1 mauling at the hands of Yokohama F. Marinos, condemning the Saitama giant to the ignominy of a seventh-place finish.

Trinita, who claimed their first-ever silverware by winning the Nabisco Cup last month, rounded off a fairy tale season by finishing in a club-best fourth place, followed by Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo.

Finke deal finalized

SAITAMA (Kyodo) Urawa Reds said Saturday they have reached a basic agreement with Volker Finke on a deal that will give the German manager the task of resurrecting the J. League club, which ended the season without a trophy.

Finke, a 60-year-old former manager at German side SC Freiburg, takes over from fellow German Gert Engels, who failed to steer the 2007 Asian champions to any of the major domestic and international titles this year.

Urawa made the much-anticipated announcement after Finke visited the Saitama club late last month and saw its hopes of the league title evaporate.

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