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JEF fans should be full of pride

27 Nov 2003(Thu)

It was happy and sad at the same time to be at Ichihara Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Sad because JEF United's chances of winning the second stage virtually disappeared after being held to a 1-1 draw by Oita Trinita.

Happy because of the reception the players got from their loyal fans after the final whistle. The players had given it their all, but on the day and over the year they just weren't good enough.

With just one game to play, JEF still have a mathematical chance of winning the stage, but it would be close to a miracle for the results of the other matches to fall in their favour.

So basically we are down to just three teams: Jubilo Iwata, who play at Yokohama F Marinos on Saturday, and Kashima Antlers, who are at Saitama against Urawa Reds in a Nabisco Cup final re-run. I think a draw would be good enough for Jubilo.

Three points on Sunday would have put JEF in the melting pot, too, but sadly it wasn't to be.

They fell behind in the first half, eventually equalised with a poacher's goal from Choi Yong Soo and then went in search of the winner.

Their problem, I thought, was that they pushed and panicked too early.

When "Our Korean Eagle" made it 1-1, there was still 28 minutes to play, but JEF played like the match was in injury time, and left themselves exposed at the back to Oita counter-attacks.

One thing I admire about JEF is that they keep their shape as a team. I know this is the kind of phrase and jargon that coaches and technical directors like to use, but it is vitally important.

This is essential in a five-man midfield, with Abe and the excellent Sato controlling the play, Sakamoto and Murai on the wings and Hanyu playing behind the two strikers.

I like Abe a lot, but his passing was not accurate Sunday in the heat of the battle.

Even Choi was affected by the pressure. He snatched at a couple of chances he would have buried earlier in the season, and in the first half, surprisingly, declined to shoot for goal himself, instead looking to pick out a teammate.

Manager Ivica Osim said he feared this result would happen, and that JEF was the kind of team not to win this important match.

This has been a familiar pattern at home this season, in the first and second stages.

But for a team with a small but hardy following (especially in those cold and windy conditions), JEF have done a brave job for the underdogs this season.

Their fans should be proud of them, not disappointed.

ends

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