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Gral ends breakout season on a high note

5 Jan 2004(Mon)

It was fitting that Rodrigo Gral should score the goal to win the Emperor's Cup for Jubilo Iwata at Tokyo's National Stadium on New Year's Day.

For the recently-completed season was a huge personal triumph for the Brazilian forward.

In 2002, Gral hardly got a chance to play because of the Nakayama-Takahara partnership which fired Jubilo to the two-stage slam.

In fact his record coming into the 2003 season was just one league goal in nine appearances.

But in 2003 he scored 21 times in J1, including eight from eight from the penalty spot, five times in the Nabisco Cup and six times in the Tennohai, including the winner against Cerezo Osaka.

That's a grand total of 32 for the three domestic competitions, which is a fine effort.

During 2003 I had a couple of long chats with Jubilo's Dutch keeper, Arno Van Zwam, about Gral's qualities.

Arno said that Gral, basically, was a penalty box poacher who did all his work close to the goal.

His goals were not spectacular, said Arno, but Gral had the natural instinct to be in the right place at the right time and put a loose ball into the net.

This is no doubt true, but maybe Gral's game developed a bit after Arno left the club and returned to Holland.

Against S-Pulse in the Tennohai semifinals he scored once, thanks to great work by Maeda, and played a part in Jubilo's other three goals.

His pass to release Nishi, who then crossed for Naruoka to head home, was a wonderful piece of play.

In the final he gave a lesson in finishing to all Japanese strikers. Collecting an accurate first-time pass from Maeda, Gral showed his control and composure in a tight situation to beat Yanagimoto in the penalty box and then slide the ball past the keeper into the corner.

It was a beautiful finish, worthy of winning a scrappy match in which Cerezo lost their shape in the second half and Jubilo took over.

So Jubilo and Gral emerged as winners, and Takahara is now just a distant memory.


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