Official Match Report: Cerezo Osaka vs Kashima Antlers (J. League Division 1 Matchday 33)

The last home game was a cliff-hanger relegation match in which the team had to win if they were to retain any hope of remaining in the J1 league. The team played at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai to 23,330 spectators, the second largest attendance this season – that includes the nine stadiums the team have played at this season. Forlan waited on the sidelines as Okuma, the Cerezo manager, went into the game with the following remarks: ‘I trust every last player on my line-up’. The squad, heading the lessons they had learnt from the first half of their last match, took to some aggressive attacking centred on Nagai and Sugimoto. However, as Okuma later said: ‘around 25 minutes into the game, Kashima was able to make use of the space afforded them in centre pitch, which resulted in them taking the lead’. Thus the 33rd minute saw Cerezo concede the first goal. With a 0-1 start in the second half, Cacau, who recorded goals in two consecutive games and goals in four consecutive home matches, was put on the field in order to revitalise the Cerezo offensive. However, their inferiority in the presence of the Kashima team caused them to concede their second goal and then, in the 67th minute, their third. Despite the setback, the cherry-blossom coloured eleven never showed any signs of giving up, and faced their opponents until, in the 69th minute, a ball from Cacau and Sugimoto found Nagai, who then put the ball in the back of the net, giving Cerezo a goal. The whole stadium was electrified on seeing the goal, and Cerezo now remounted an offensive in orderto try to manage to equalise with their opponents. However, failing to convert any chances, Kashima’s Shibasaki scored his side’s fourth goal, ending the game in a great defeat for the Cerezo side. As a result, Cerezo dropped below 16th place in the J1 rankings, meaning relegation: their next season will, to the disbelief and dismay of many, have to be played in the J2. Sakamoto said: ‘Our whole season has culminated in this onematch; today’s result was most regretful’. Okuma gave thanks: ‘I would like to thank all the fans who have supported us through thick and thin, and everyone who has contributed to the running of the Cerezo Osaka club’. One could see the bitter regret and burden in the eyes of the footballers and staff who failed to keep their team in the J1 League. The loud booing by the whole stadium of the football team’s CEO, Mr Okano, during his speech at the 2014 season home closing ceremony (immediately after the match) was symbolic of this season. However, Cerezo still have one match remaining this season. Yamashita left the pitch with these remarks: ‘We put our fans through a disappointing season. Though we cannot win back every game, the least we can do is play our last game in a professional spirit’. The next game will put Cerezo’s pride on the line. The team must move on and live to fight another day.