November 27, 2007: Who would have thought that the J.League championship would still be on the line on the last day of the season?
It looked as though Reds would wrap it up early and be able to take a breather before the FIFA Club World Cup in the second week of December.
But here we are, in the final week of the season, and Reds still have to win one more game to guarantee a second straight championship.
On paper, of course Reds should beat Yokohama FC at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, but we have seen in the J.League that anything can happen on the last day of the season -- especially at that ground. Just ask Tatsuhiko Kubo!
Look at the match from the perspective of Yokohama FC. It is a wonderful opportunity for them to end a miserable season on a high note, and give their fans something to celebrate over the winter months before they return to J2.
They have nothing to lose, whereas Reds have everything to lose in terms of the championship and indeed their pride. After all, the fact that they won the Asian Champions League has made them an attractive target for all rivals, and this is additional pressure the Reds players will have to learn to live with.
It could have been even worse for Reds if Washington had been sent off against Antlers on Saturday. After being booked for a late challenge on Araiba in the first half, Washington went flying over Sogahata in the second half as they chased a loose ball.
It was touch and go whether he would be booked for simulation – sorry, for diving – and I would not have been surprised at all if the referee had shown him the yellow card, followed by red. There is no doubt Washington tumbled theatrically, twisting in the air, but what saved him probably was that he did not appeal for a penalty. I think he came to his senses as he hit the deck and decided to get up and carry on, realizing that if he pushed his luck a little too far it might backfire on him.
Anyway, it was good to see the angry reaction of the Antlers players. I must admit I love it when players are furious with rivals who dive and try and win penalties or free kicks. I don’t think there is enough of this in Japan (angry reactions I mean; there is plenty of the other).
If a player feels an opponent is trying to con the referee and trying to get someone booked or sent off, give him a piece of your mind! Tell him he’s a cheat. Let everyone in the ground know he’s a cheat. Embarrass him. Humiliate him. Then maybe he won't do it again -- well, at least until the next game.
About the Reds-Antlers match in general: a thoroughly professional performance by Antlers, just like the good old days. Lovely goal by Nozawa. Good spot by the referee for Tulio’s handball. Looked harsh at first, but the decision was spot on.
But why, oh why didn’t Soma shoot on his favored left foot in the second half instead of trying to pass to Washington inside the Antlers box?