November 29, 2006: Surely no; surely it can’t happen again, can it?
Reds against Gamba at Saitama Stadium 2002 in a match that has been sold out for weeks.
Reds three points clear with one game remaining.
Gamba needing to win by three goals or more to overtake them.
No, it cannot happen. The championship is already decided, and Saturday will be one big red, black and white party, apart from the section reserved for visiting fans.
Well, this is the logical scenario for Saturday.
But, as we have seen in recent seasons, the J.League is not logical and therefore a result such as Reds 0 Gamba 3 simply cannot be ruled out.
Just imagine it. Gamba leading 2-0 with four minutes of injury time to play. Then Magno Alves goes down in the box and the referee awards a penalty. He scores – and Gamba retain their league crown in another incredible finish.
Or he misses – and Reds win the championship for the first time in Buchwald’s last league match in charge.
After watching Marinos beat Jubilo with that Kubo header in injury time in 2003 to clinch the second stage and the perfect championship, and then seeing Gamba win at Todoroki on the last day of the 2005 season, I am not ruling anything out on Saturday.
The unthinkable can happen in football, especially in Japan, and recent history proves this.
In all probability it won’t, and the match may well finish 0-0 or 1-1 to give Reds the title in a bit of an anti-climax. An anti-climax, that is, for the neutral fans, but not for the Reds fans, of course, because the title is won over a season, not on one day.
This is why whoever wins the championship these days is the best team in the league, unlike in the days of the two-stage system when the most consistent team may not even have appeared in the two-leg final, and the eventual champions may have finished several points behind the runner-up in the overall standings.
Thankfully those days are over.
But the days of shocks and incredible finishes are not, and never will be over in football.
My tip for Saturday?
A draw, 1-1, Reds to score first (Washington, 35 minutes) and Gamba to equalize late in the second half (Magno Alves, 80 minutes) to ensure a nervy finish.
Reds to win the league.
But there again….