Kashiwa pip Osaka to reach Champions League
Hirofumi Watanabe scored the only goal to give Kashiwa Reysol a 1-0 win over Gamba Osaka in the Emperor's Cup final today to book a place in the AFC Champions League. It was sweet revenge for Kashiwa, who lost to the same opponents by the same scoreline in the final four years ago.
The cup provided Kashiwa a last chance to qualify for the Champions League - alongside Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Vegalta Sendai and Urawa Red Diamonds - after failing to defend their J-League title, finishing sixth. "Since (Naoya) Kondo got an injury, I had been determined to win the Emperor's Cup and qualify for the AFC Champions League," said Watanabe.
Three-time champions Osaka, the winners of the AFC Champions League in 2008, kept the initiative for most of the first half and thought they had taken the lead in the eighth minute, but Brazilian striker Leandro's strike was ruled offside.
Kashiwa scored the only goal in the 35th minute when Watanabe rose to meet a corner by Brazil midfielder Leandro Domingues from the left. Goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno, one of the three players still in the team who suffered the defeat four years ago, kept Osaka's forward line at bay for the remainder of the game.
Kashiwa's Brazilian coach Nelsinho said Watanabe's goal "was a gift for him after he worked hard for the team". "It was a result of the hard work and sacrifice given by my players, so I'm very happy for them. Our opponents were strong, but we managed to cope with their attacks," he said.