The long Japanese season comes to an end on New Year’s Day, with an exhausted Gamba Osaka set to take on Kashiwa Reysol in the Emperor’s Cup final.
Gamba booked their place with an extra-time semi-final win over Yokohama F. Marinos at the National Stadium in Tokyo, with young striker Masato Yamazaki continuing his recent goal-scoring exploits as he found the net after a marathon 116 minutes.
Kashiwa Reysol, meanwhile, came from behind to Qq Online beat FC Tokyo 2-1 at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi in the other semi-final, as the Sun Kings booked an emotional send-off for coach Nobuhiro Ishizaki.
Earlier this month Reysol officials announced that Ishizaki would not be in charge for the 2009 campaign, but despite that disappointment the veteran tactician has managed to guide his side into their first ever Emperor’s Cup final.
Tatsuya Suzuki opened the scoring for FC Tokyo – ironically he is on loan from Kashiwa Reysol – but substitutes Franca and Tadanari Ri turned the game on its head as they scored second half goals to send Kashiwa through to the final.
Kashiwa may be renowned as one of the scrappiest outfits in Japanese football, but a hopelessly inappropriate pre-match headline on the Reysol website highlights that J. League clubs have a long way to go to match their more media savvy European counterparts.
The offending Kashiwa Reysol headline
It was the S-Pulse UK Ultras site that brought the offending headline to the attention of the blogosphere, and Reysol officials will hope there is no backlash for their “Final Jihad” headline – on or off the pitch.
Manchester United crowned World champions
Manchester United have won the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, beating LDU Quito 1-0 in front of 68,682 fans at Yokohama International Stadium.
Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute and he was later awarded the Golden Ball award for being named the Player Of The Tournament.
United deserved their win having turned in a dominant performance against the Ecuadorian underdogs, although the reigning European champions were forced to work hard after defender Nemanja Vidic saw red for an elbow to the face of LDU striker Claudio Bieler just four minutes into the second half.
Before that United had enjoyed the best of the action, with the outstanding Wayne Rooney forcing LDU’s veteran keeper Jose Francisco Cevallos into an early save with a stinging volley.
Rooney missed an even better chance just before the break when clean through on goal, as his lob-on-the-run landed on top of the net rather than in it.
It wasn’t until after United had been reduced to ten men that LDU began to pose a threat, with tricky midfielder Alejandro Manjos driving his team forward.
He saw one long-range effort pushed away by Edwin van der Sar in the 65th minute, with the Dutch goalkeeper proving that he has lost none of his dexterity despite his advancing years.
With seventeen minutes remaining United finally broke the deadlock, as for once Cristiano Ronaldo eschewed the showboating antics in favour of playing an easy ball, and Wayne Rooney made no mistake as he stroked an accurate finish from Ronaldo’s pass into the bottom corner.
A frustrated Alejandro Manjos was then denied again from long-range, as Edwin van der Sar somehow managed to push his right-foot thunderbolt over the crossbar.
With that Manchester United saw victory within their grasp, as the English giants capped a memorable year by adding the world crown to the English and European titles they won last season.
United’s victory was a triumph for coach Sir Alex Ferguson, who brushed aside suggestions from a dismissive British media as he added a world title to his impressive swag of trophies – which also includes the Intercontinental Cup won by United in Tokyo back in 1999.