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Wednesday 13th July 2011 ko 7.00pm

J-League Division 1

CEREZO OSAKA 2 (Bo-Kyung Kim 49 Y Marsuhasi 74)

JUBILO IWATA 3 (Kanazono 63 Komano 77 Yamada 80)

Att 8,056

Entry & Programme  2,500 yen

“Kirin” Beer 500 yen

Balls in a bucket game 500 yen

Of the 12 games on my Japanese tour, this one was easily the most enjoyable, and summed up the Japanese game neatly. I’d spent the Wednesday sightseeing in Osaka, and took the train over to Tsurugaoka Station for 5pm, 2 hours before kick off.

The “Groundhopping Informer” has Cerezo playing at the Nagai Stadium which has a capacity 47,000 but that’s only used for the bigger games, for example Gamba. For the majority of the time they play at the Kincho stadium, capacity 20,500. Confused as to which stadium to head to? Don’t be, they’re adjacent! The stadium before sponsorship was known as Nagai Ball Gall Field and was built for American football and for rugby. It would explain why there’s only one covered stand, and behind one goal there’s a narrow terrance, behind the other is a grass bank, housing the away fans.

On arrival I met Chris Hoddle, another expat fan, and I tried the local delicacy tako-yaki, or doughballs with octopus filling, and tried the throw the balls in the bucket game. You get to keep the balls which contain a players shirt mobile phone charm, and if you get 6 or more in in 10 seconds, you win a bigger prize. I got 7, and a Cerezo baseball cap!

Cerezo Osaka have long been one of the most colourful teams in the  J.League, and not solely for their “flaming pink” shirts. Although Cerezo have never won the league title, they have come within a whisker of victory on two occasions, and if the team continues to play its aggressive style of attacking football, fans are sure to overlook the relative lack of silverware. In 2000, and again in 2005, Cerezo went into the final match of the season in first  place, only to stumble at the final hurdle. While this has surely disappointed  their fans, it is often the teams that break their fans hearts with dramatic  “near misses” that enjoy the most fanatical support. Although their cross-town rivals, Gamba, were the first Kansai-area team to win the title, in 2005, and  have gone on to even greater international fame as Asian champions in 2008, Cerezo still seems to be the team that excites the greater passion among folks in Osaka.

The team adopted the  name “Cerezo Osaka”, taken from the Spanish word for “cherry.” Osaka and all  of Japan, for that matter  is well known for its beautiful cherry trees which blossom in a pink profusion during the early spring.

We’d already marked our spot, in typical fashion and enjoyed the wide range of people united by football, who can watch their sport in perfect safety.

As for the game, I think the Rising Sun website sums it all up neatly,

“On the other side of Osaka, two of the youngest and most exciting teams in the league met head to head, both Cerezo and Jubilo have young players of their own who are likely to be heard from in the near future. The only question is which one we will be discussing as the next big talent to attract attention from Europe – Hiroshi Kiyotake, Yusuke Maruhashi, Shu Kurata, Hiroki Yamada, Ryohei Yamazaki or Kosuke Yamamoto.

The first half was closely contested, and though both teams had several chances to open the scoring, scrambling defensive efforts kept things scoreless at the break. However shortly after the restart the home team triggered the excitement meter with apowerful long-distance drive which caught the top right corner and put Cerezo in the lead. But Jubilo responded immediately as Yamada displayed his dribbling prowess. The U-22 midfielder turned the left flank and weaved his way past three Cerezo defenders before pushing the ball back to Hidetaka Kanazono for the finish.

Cerezo went right back in front a few minutes later when Maruhashi found free space outside the left post and Kiyotake fed him perfectly for a left-footed slam dunk. Once again it was Jubilo’s turn to respond, this time with an unlikely shooter – veteran Yuichi Komano – driving a right-footed shot into the top right corner, just out of the reach of keeper Kim Jin-Hyeon.

With ten minutes left Hiroki Yamada drove a dagger into the hearts of the home fans, racing onto a cross from Komano and meeting it on the half-volley with his right boot. The ball slipped just inside the post and Jubilo snatched the comeback victory.”

And that’s Cerezo all over, exciting and infuriating in equal measure, and with a more than porous defence. How Kim Jin Hyeon gets a game in goal I’ll never know. I was disappointed that Cerezo didn’t win, but this was a great spectacle.

The final word should go to the elderly lady with the bicycle from the Hiroshima trip. She handed me a goody bag of Cerezo souvenirs, and I was lost for words at her kindness.

Arigatou gozaimasu. ありがとうございます。