October 28, 2009: Even if the writing has been on the wall for many months, the cold, harsh reality of relegation still hurts.
This was the case at Nishikyogoku Stadium on Saturday, when Oita's relegation to J2 was finally sealed with a 1-1 draw against Kyoto.
The moving scenes after the final whistle, with the large band of travelling fans in tears along with the Trinita players, illustrated the rapidly changing fortunes in football, as it was less than one year ago that Oita enjoyed their finest hour: winning the Nabisco Cup.
On that occasion, manager Pericles Chamusca controlled a team led by three influential Brazilians, with Edmilson and Roberto in central midfield and Ueslei up front. Through this trio, Trinita could dominate an opponent with their patient, possession football, and capitalise on any opening thanks to the predatory powers of Ueslei.
But injuries to key players this season undermined all the good work of 2008, with Roberto and Ueslei long gone and Chamusca fired in a desperate attempt to turn things round.
New boss Ranko Popovic has clearly enjoyed his own “Mission Impossible” and has not been afraid to give youth a chance, but relegation was inevitable with such a meagre points tally to build from and has now been confirmed with four games remaining.
Just how many of their young Japanese players they can keep remains to be seen. Goalkeeper Nishikawa and attacking midfielder Kanazaki have been linked to Gamba and Nagoya respectively, while the third member of the “Holy Trinita” - central defender Morishige - should have several options on recovering from injury.
No matter who stays or leaves, the hope for the Oita faithful is that things can change again next year, and that they can mount a challenge to make a swift return to the top flight. After all, who would have thought, this time last year, that Oita would be the first team to be relegated in 2009?
While we are on the subject of the Kyoto-Oita match, full marks to the presentation by Sky PerfecTV. On the final whistle they let the human drama play out, instead of conducting a hasty pitch-side interview with a player - Kyoto goal scorer Hayashi for example -- and ruining the moment.
The body language of the Oita players, especially captain Takamatsu, and faces of the supporters captured the despair of relegation and the emotion of the game, and told the story more than any words could do.