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Japanese Soccer News - December 2009

Michael Tuckerman reports

J.League | J.League Betting Tips | Japanese Goods

Kashima Antlers Champions

J-League Kashima Antlers were crowned J. League champions for the third successive season, after the Ibaraki side beat arch-rivals Urawa Reds on the final day in front of 53,783 fans at a rain-soaked Saitama Stadium.

Shinzo Koroki was the hero for the visitors, scoring midway through the second half to seal a record seventh J. League title for the Antlers.

Kawasaki Frontale finished second, with their 3-2 win away at relegated Kashiwa Reysol not enough to see the Kanagawa side claim a first ever piece of silverware.

Gamba Osaka will joined Kashima and Kawasaki in the 2010 AFC Champions League, after the Osakans finished third – some six points behind champions Kashima.

The trio will be joined in the Champions League by the winner of the season-ending Emperor's Cup, while Kashiwa Reysol, JEF United and Oita Trinita made the drop into J2.

They will be replaced by Vegalta Sendai, Cerezo Osaka and Shonan Bellmare, who all return to the top flight following long spells in the second tier.

Kashima midfielder Mitsuo Ogasawara was named the J. League’s Player Of The Year, with the mercurial playmaker instrumental in Kashima’s record-breaking season, which saw the Ibaraki outfit become the first team in the professional era to win the league championship three years in a row.

Emperor's Cup

When the dust had settled on another gripping J. League title race, many wondered whether anyone could stop Kashima Antlers after they picked up their third straight Japanese crown.

They got an answer - of sorts - after Gamba Osaka dumped the Antlers out of the season-ending Emperor's Cup at the quarter-final stage.

Gamba's belated victory came courtesy of a brace from ex-Oita Trinita striker Masato Yamazaki, who scored either side of a goal from Kashima front man Yuzo Tashiro.

The Osakans march on to a semi-final showdown with promoted side Vegalta Sendai, who shook off any ill-affects from their recent J2 title celebrations to beat a star-studded Kawasaki Frontale.

In front of a packed house of 18,340 fans at Yurtec Stadium in Sendai, the hosts prevailed thanks to a 2-1 extra-time victory.

Kashima Stadium.

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Yuki Nakashima opened the scoring for the hosts, and Vegalta looked to be cruising to a place in the final four until Kazuhiro Murakami drove home a stoppage-time equaliser.

There was to be no monumental fightback from Frontale, however, as Vegalta striker Tomoyuki Hirase scored a late winner to seal Sendai's place in the semi-finals.

The other semi-final will be contested by Tokai rivals Shimizu S-Pulse and Nagoya Grampus, although both sides experienced contrasting fortunes in their quarter-final matches.

Shimizu required a dramatic extra-time winner from veteran defender Arata Kodama to seal a 3-2 win over a plucky Albirex Niigata, with Kodama's goal coming just a minute from full-time.

Meanwhile, Nagoya cruised past cash-strapped local rivals FC Gifu courtesy of a 3-0 win in front of 12,211 fans at Mizuho Stadium, with Australian international Josh Kennedy scoring a hat-trick.

The win sets up an intriguing final four clash with regional rivals Shimizu S-Pulse on December 29, with Shimizu set to enjoy the lion's share of support as the two sides run out at Ecopa Stadium.

The other semi-final will take place at the National Stadium in Tokyo, as the four remaining Emperor's Cup combatants fight for their place in a New Year's Day showdown.

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