Gamba Osaka made to sweat for J-League title
Gamba Osaka won their second J-League title on Saturday as Urawa Reds imploded once again in a fitting finale to a topsy-turvy Japanese season.
Tokyo: Gamba Osaka won their second J-League title on Saturday as Urawa Reds imploded once again in a fitting finale to a topsy-turvy Japanese season.
Perspiration poured off Gamba`s jittery players at Pocari Sweat Stadium despite the bone-chilling cold as they were held to a goalless draw at Tokushima Vortis -- by far the worst team in the top flight and long since relegated.
But the Reds pressed self-destruct, surrendering late goals in a 2-1 home defeat by Nagoya Grampus, leaving their players slumped on the turf sobbing after their latest meltdown.
Gamba, who won their only previous J-League crown in 2005, finished with 63 points from 34 games, one point more than Urawa. Seven-times champions Kashima Antlers claimed third spot on 60 points.
The Reds had frittered away points at an alarming rate in the run-in, even before being stunned 2-0 at home by Gamba and conceding a shock stoppage-time equaliser to Sagan last weekend to hand the initiative to their Osaka rivals.
A towering header by defender Tomoaki Makino after just two minutes fired up a crowd of 55,000 in Saitama, only for the Reds to choke again after the interval.
Defender Yusuke Muta squeezed in the equaliser for Nagoya following a corner in the 72nd minute before striker Kensuke Nagai smashed home the winner on a breakaway a minute from time.
Urawa`s nightmare added insult to injury after being ordered to play a game in an empty stadium as punishment for a racist "Japanese Only" banner hung over the entrance to the corner of the ground earlier this year, an incident which caused major embarrassment to the J-League.
Gamba, who led Reds on goal difference having scored seven more goals coming into the final day, looked far from convincing against a sorry Vortis team who took just 14 points and won only three games in their first season in the top flight.
Striker Takashi Usami provided the greatest threat for Gamba in a tepid display but with the Reds incapable of taking care of business, a point was enough for the former Asian champions to win the title at the first bite after bouncing back from the second division.
"It`s a fantastic feeling to be champions," Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa told reporters.
"We would have preferred to finish with a win today but we`ll take it however it comes. It`s great to win the league in our first year back from division two."
Gamba, who have already won the J-League Cup, can complete a domestic treble if they beat second division side Montedio Yamagata in the Emperor`s Cup final on December 13.