Kashima Antlers beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 to win the Emperor's Cup today and clinch a place in the AFC Champions League.
It was Kashima's fourth cup victory, following their triumphs in 1997, 2000 and 2007, repeating their performance against Shimizu in the 2000 final.
"It was a very difficult season for us as we had been expected to win the J-League title for a record fourth straight time and we failed," said Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswaldo Oliveira. "It was very disappointing that we couldn't. As I said after the semi-finals, we had so many drawn games in the league competition although we had so many chances to score.
"This is a knock-out competition and we must score goals to win. My players did a great job. This is a victory that we, staff, players and everybody, fought for together," added Oliveira.
Kashima controlled the first half with Shinzo Koroki narrowly missing in the 14th minute. They took the lead on 26 minutes when captain Mitsuo Ogasawara sent the ball into the box from a corner on the left for Brazilian midfielder Fellype Gabriel to head home.
Shimizu, who managed only a couple of attempts on goal in the first half, started to take the initiative as Japanese international striker Shinji Okazaki signalled his intent with his first shot.
Norwegian forward Frode Johnsen broke through a Kashima offside trap to hit the ball from the edge of the area over hapless goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata in the 59th minute, evening the score. But substitute midfielder Masashi Motoyama came to the rescue of Kashima, fending off Shimizu attacks and allowing forward Shinzo Koroki a shot which he hit off the left post.
In the 77th minute, Australian defender Eddy Bosnar pushed Ogasawara down to give a free kick to Kashima from just outside the penalty area, which Takuya Nozawa struck home for the decider.
"I was very disappointed to finish fourth in the league. It was a very tough season, but I feel relieved that we were able to finish the last game of the season on a winning note," said Nozawa.
J-League champions Nagoya Grampus, Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka have qualified for the Champions League after taking the top three places in the J-League.