2009-09-20 Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Shonan Bellmare
Posted by stefanole on 2009/10/20
Exactly a month ago today, I travelled to Osaka with Claire to watch this Sliver Week game. I was sure of an exciting game, with promotion to J1 at stake for both sides.
Cerezo Osaka, the home team, play at the Nagai Stadium. It was very easy to get to the ground, as we took the Midosuji line subway from our hotel in Esaka. ‘Cerezo’ (pronounced seresso in the transliterated Japanese) means cherry tree in Spanish, and was chosen as a name because it is the official flower of Osaka city. The team was incorporated as Osaka FC in 1993 from the former Yanmar company team (a Japanese engine manufacturer based in Osaka). Interestingly, their cross-city rivals Gamba Osaka were created from what remained of Yanmar Diesel’s B-team.
Shonan Bellmare, based in Kanagawa prefecture in Kanto (Tokyo area), have an equally chequered history. In 1996, they won the Asian Cup Winners’ Cup, with the help of Hidetoshi NAKATA and fellow Japan international Wagner Lopes. Their fortunes turned suddenly in 1999 however, as the Japanese economic bubble burst and their main sponsor (Fujita Kogyo) withdrew support for the club. Whilst the consequences were not as severe as for the Yokohama Flugels (who were swallowed up by the Yokohama Marinos when ANA withdrew its support), Shonan were forced to let their star players go and tumbled into J2 as a result. ‘Bellmare’, very loosely translated from latin/romance languages, means ‘beautiful marine’.
The game was billed by Cerezo as a revenge match, after they lost 3-4 to Bellmare in Osaka in July (the J2 schedule calls for teams to play each other three times). Fans with long memories may also remember the 1994 Emperor’s Cup final, in which Cerezo lost to the then Hiratsuka Bellmare.
The win for Cerezo allowed them to keep their noses out in front in the dogfight at the top of J2, while Bellmare are still just outside the third promotion place. A reversal in the score in this match would have seen Bellmare squeeze Ventforet Kofu into fourth place, and even a draw would have seen Bellmare into the promotion places on goal difference.
As it is, Cerezo look increasingly sure of a return to J1, after a three-year absence. With six rounds remaining in the gruelling 51-match league schedule, Cerezo have a seven-point advantage over fourth-placed Bellmare.
Bellmare really cannot afford the luxury of taking their foot off the pedal though. Their 3-0 win over mid-table Kataller Toyama last weekend underlines their determination to break into the promotion places. If they manage to do so by the end of the season, they will make a return to Japan’s top league after an absence of ten years.
Both Cerezo and Bellmare will need to contend with Vegalta Sendai and Ventforet Kofu, who are second and third respectively. Both are equally desperate to make a return to J1 after spending time in the wilderness of J2.
The game itself did not really get going in the first half, with both sides proving unwilling to be too aggressive lest they concede on the counterattack.
The second half saw Cerezo really take the game to Bellmare, which was fortunate since in that half they were attacking the end we were sitting in. (Since the unreserved seats were packed, I was forced to upgrade our tickets to more expensive SA and then the SS reserved seats in order to get into a decent position to shoot from.)
As the second half wore on, you could really feel that Cerezo and their fans had decided that they wanted this game. The anticipation turned to jubilation as a tidy one-two on the edge of the penalty area allowed FUNAYAMA Yuji to strike.
Osaka kept the pressure on, with KUROGI Masato’s twenty-yard strike being palmed away by an increasingly desperate-looking Nozawa. The second goal followed close behind, with FUJIMOTO Kota blasting in after KAIO’s close-range header had been saved.
Cerezo also had time to have two goals disallowed (incorrectly as I’ve heard, though the lack of replays on the Internet means I can’t judge for myself). Their inability to put the game completely beyond doubt was a worry, as I could feel that the slightly ragged-looking Osaka might be vulnerable to a lucky counter-punch.
These fears were realised after Shonan scored from a well-rehearsed set-play. In what is almost a required tactic when you have a big foreign guy on your team who can head the ball well, Shonan took a short corner to open up the angle a little bit for a deep cross. This was met inside the six-yard box by Jean (transliterated as ‘Jyaan’ in katakana), Bellmare’s big Brazilian defender. It was not a great goal to concede, as neither the Cerezo defender nor the goalkeeper seemed keen to challenge Jean in the air.
Bellmare couldn’t manage to spring any more surprises however, and the home team ended the game with a deserved three points. They were aided by a strong (relatively, in Japanese terms) referee, who didn’t flinch in sending off Shonan’s Tamura for two yellow cards. The red card seemed to be the spur Osaka needed to push on, and indeed three minutes later they scored the first goal.
All in all it was a very enjoyable match, and I expect I will return to the Nagai for the Osaka derby against Gamba next year. Next time though, we will either make sure we eat beforehand, or we will bring our own supplies: the poor organisation of food outlets at the Nagai (too few in number, variety and food stocks) meant that we watched the entire game on empty stomachs. Still, Robi-kun gave us the peace sign at the end.