Last year’s J2 champions, Kashiwa Reysol, completed a fairy tale season on Saturday and created a little piece of Japanese football history in the process. In winning 3-1 away at Urawa Reds 3-1 in the season’s 34th and final matchday, they also secured their first J1 title, edging out reigning champions Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka. It was a notable first for the Chiba outfit; no team had ever before won J2 and J1 league titles in successive seasons.
Reysol's success owed much to a tight defence, which provided a solid platform for those further forward to produce eye-catching performances throughout the season. The team has a strong Brazilian connection, with the skilful duo of Leandro Domingues and Jorge Wagner influential performers, and coach Nelsinho masterminding things from the sidelines. After their win against Urawa, Nelsinho reflected: “We ended the season on top today, but we’ve led for 82 per cent of the way and have always gone out there feeling that the title was within our grasp.
"Today we showed the same qualities we have all season: a tight defence, organisation, eagerness to switch play, strength on the counter and players running into space. I’m so proud to have won such a tough league and want to thank and congratulate all the players for what they’ve done these two years.”
Nelsinho was appointed in July 2009, but his mission to keep Reysol in the top flight was unsuccessful as the team dropped to the J2 that year. Club chiefs were still impressed with the Brazilian’s methods, however, and were happy to keep him on.
It might sound easy now we’re champions, but it’s been a long journey. All of the staff and players without exception have worked really hard.
As the veteran coach recalled. “Even though we were relegated to the second division I thought we played well in the last four games that season and when we kept that up in the J2, it showed that the team had a better understanding of the game. It might sound easy now we’re champions, but it’s been a long journey. All of the staff and players without exception have worked really hard this season.”
For his part, Brazilian forward Domingues put his team’s success down to self-belief, saying: “We played with confidence in all 34 games this year”.
Having qualified to represent the host country at Japan 2011, Reysol face Auckland City in the competition's opening match on 8 December. Nelsinho for one is already thinking ahead to the big kick-off: “We already had some ideas for the Auckland game, but they would have meant nothing without a win to seal the championship. Winning the league and earning the right to be out there should really motivate the team. Our opponents may be from New Zealand, but I still want everyone to approach the match properly.”
The win over Urawa featured a debut goal for 20-year-old midfielder Akimi Barada, one of many new faces in the Reysol team. He believes that, while Nelsinho has no fixed starting XI, hard work on the training ground has ensured his team can overcome opponents with superior movement. “We can play the same way regardless of who’s in the team,” said Barada.
With their resilient defence and slick, speedy attacks, Reysol are sure to make for fascinating viewing during Japan 2011.