Saturday, November 6, 2010

Nabisco Cup Final - Jublio Iwata 5 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3 - November 3, 2010

This past Wednesday was Culture Day in Japan which meant it was time for the final of the Nabisco Cup, the J League's equivalent to the Carling Cup. I watched it last year so won't write about the tournament structure this time, interested readers can check out last year's post.

The Teams

Although the game is played in Tokyo, the teams are labeled as visitor and home so the fans buy the right tickets. The visitors were Sanfrecce Hiroshima. I actually watched their first game in the tournament back on September 1st, when they lost 1-0 to Gamba Osaka. But they managed to win the second leg 2-1 and then beat Shimizu S Pulse in the semi-finals to make it here. They have never won the Nabsico Cup, nor taken a full season title in the J League, so this was a great chance for them to gain some real silverware (they have one Super Cup but that is just a one-game trophy which they qualified for by losing the Emperor's Cup the previous year). In the J League this season they lie 9th with 11 wins and 9 draws out of 28 matches.

They were facing Jublio Iwata, a one-time dynasty based in Shizuoka Prefecture, which is just southwest of Tokyo. Between 1997 and 2002, the club won 3 league titles , a Nabisco Cup, an Emperor's Cup and an Asian title, but they've fallen into the mid-table the past few years. This season they sit two spots below Hiroshima with a 10-9-9 record. Their goalkeeper is Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, who backstopped the Japanese in the 2002 World Cup, but who is nearing retirement.

I should mention that Hiroshima didn't participate in the round-robin portion of the tournament as they were playing in the AFC Champions League. So this was only their 5th Nabisco Cup game, while Iwata had played 11.

The Fans

Both teams had thousands of supporters at each end of the stadium. I expected Jublio (above) to have a few more fans simply because they are closer, and outside the stadium there were dozens of buses with Iwata banners. But the Hiroshima faithful (below) had made the journey in great numbers as well and both sides presented their colours and songs before the game. What I found interesting is that there were less Sanfrecce fans at the game I saw in Hiroshima; glad to see that they are embracing the idea of the road trip!

The Game

I'm going to refrain from detailed descriptions of all the goals in this game, because there were eight of them! That's right, 8 goals in a soccer game. What's even more amazing is that there were only three goals at the 88 minute mark. After that, things got pretty wild. Before proceeding, I suggest you check out a YouTube Video that shows them all.

With the video, it's difficult to understand how quickly those goals came though. The first 25 minutes of the match were rather dull, with neither team able to generate any offense. Iwata came closest when a free kick from Kota Ueda (directly below) missed the top corner (below that).

The first goal was scored in the 36th minute when Keisuke Funatani ran onto a perfect cross from Ryoichi Maeda, heading the ball through Shusaku Nishikawa's legs.

But Hiroshima were not fazed, and Croatian Mihael Mikic made a spectacular run down the right flank, shaking two defenders, running into the box, and crossing to Tadanari Lee, who mishit the ball moving backwards but caught Kawaguchi going the wrong way and the ball dribbled into the net.

If you watched the video above, you would have seen Sanfrecce holding a big team celebration, as all 11 players on the field, including the keeper, gathered near the Iwata net, went to one knee, and made a motion as if drawing a bow. I'm not sure of the meaning, but it was a bit over the top.

Jublio's Norihiro Nishi

Hiroshima's second goal came just 3 minutes into the second half when a long ball from Koji Morisaki eluded two Iwata defenders and found itself on the foot of Satoru Yamagishi who calmly slotted past Kawaguchi. Yamagishi then ran to the Sanfreece supporters and took quite a while getting back to the field, but the referee didn't warn him which I found surprising. Two goals and two excessive celebrations; would the soccer gods take offense?

The answer would be yes. In the 88th minute, Nishikawa couldn't handle a strong header off a corner kick and the ball went straight to Maeda (last year's J League scoring champ) who tapped home to tie the match and send it to overtime. The picture above shows Maeda's outstretched leg touching the ball, which is hidden by a lunging Nishikawa.

The extra time started slowly, although Sanfrecce hit the crossbar midway through. But it was another corner kick that led to the goal as Iwata's Minoru Suganuma volleyed home a headed pass 12 minutes in. That seemed to crush Hiroshima, who promptly made a defensive blunder that allowed Ryohei Yamazaki to score two minutes later. But no, Sanfrecce had a free kick that was expertly taken by Tomoaki Makino, beating a diving Kawaguchi to make it 4-3 at the extra time interval. That's 3 goals in 3 minutes, a rather unusual occurrence in soccer, and it looked like Hiroshima had hope.

But just four minutes into the second half of OT, Maeda added his second, chesting down a long free kick and racing into the box, where he chipped over Nishikawa to seal the game. Sanfrecce had a penalty at the final whistle, but Kawaguchi made a diving stop to send the Iwata fans into a frenzy.

Jublio wins the Nabisco Cup 5-3! What an amazing game! Not particularly well played by either side, particular the Hiroshima defense who were constantly giving up chances, but a lot of fun to watch. Neither goalkeeper will be writing home about this one either, but the fans certainly enjoyed it. Below is a list of the goals.

The Free Stuff

The other great thing about the Nabisco Cup is getting free junk food. This year was Oreo chocolate cream cookies and Chip Star, a rather bland Pringles imitation. There was also a double-sided trading card with Hisato Sato of Hiroshima on one side and Iwata's Maeda on the other. There is also the pamphlet with the history of the tournament and detailed descriptions of both teams.

Next Up

November 13th is the AFC Champions League final. Before that there is a baseball game between the Korean champion SK Wyverns and the NPB champion, which I may go to. After that I'm in Okinawa for a few days and then there's some Top League Rugby on the 27th. Then the roadtrip portion of the blog gets restarted as I'm off US and Canada for a month of hockey, football, and basketball. I'll post the final trip schedule next week as it has been decided and tickets have been booked.



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