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Cerezo back in business

By Jeremy Walker

   TOKYO (August 5)--Cerezo Osaka failed to show up for their own party at the end of the J.League's first stage in May. And now they are making their rivals pay for it in the second stage. Cerezo should have won the first stage comfortably but slumped to a 2-1 defeat at home to struggling Kawasaki Frontale in the last round of games. The 43,000 fans who had flocked to the 2002 World Cup venue of Nagai Stadium on the outskirts of Osaka to enjoy a first-stage festival left in a daze, as the unexpected setback handed the title to the Yokohama F Marinos. Eight games into the second stage, and Cerezo are finally making their move.

   On Saturday they thrashed defending champions Jubilo Iwata 3-0 at Nagai Stadium, a week after winning 1-0 away to Kashima to end the Antlers' six-game winning run at the start of the second stage. Although Antlers remain top on 19 points, Cerezo moved on to 11 and are clearly in the mood for a late run at the second-stage title from 10th place.
   Against third-placed Jubilo, Cerezo took the lead with another spectacular goal from striker Akinori Nishizawa. He stunned France with a right-foot volley on the run in a June friendly in Morocco, and this time he connected with an acrobatic overhead kick following a cross from his strike-partner, Hiroaki Morishima. Nishizawa's goal came on 27 minutes and was the only one of the first half, but Cerezo finished the job after the break.
   In the opening minute of the half, South Korean midfielder Yoon Jong Hwan, who is having a superb season, made it 2-0 with a well-struck left-foot drive from the edge of the box, and compatriot Noh Jung Yoon hit the target with a first-time effort on 70 minutes to complete the scoring.
   As Jubilo tried to get into the game, captain Masashi Nakayama was kept out by Cerezo goalkeeper Seigo Shimokawa in a fine team effort by Cerezo.

   None of the leading sides could win on Saturday, leaving Antlers on top with 19 points, Gamba second on 17, Jubilo third with 15 and then FC Tokyo, Kashiwa Reysol and Avispa Fukuoka all on 14.

   Antlers were away to the Marinos at Tokyo's National Stadium, and over 31,000 fans attended what could be a dress rehearsal for the two-leg play-off in December between the winners of the two stages.
   With national coach Philippe Troussier watching from the stands, Olympic team strikers Atsushi Yanagisawa and Tomoyuki Hirase combined to give Kashima the lead after 63 minutes. Yanagisawa broke down the right on a counter-attack and delayed his pass perfectly for Hirase, who scored into an empty net.
   Ten minutes later, Marinos equalised when Brazilian Edmilson scored in a goalmouth scramble. Marinos then lost national team goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi with a thigh strain, but his deputy Tatsuya Enomoto recovered from a shaky start to keep Antlers at bay.
   With the score 1-1 after 90 minutes, the 30 minutes of extra time were played in monsoon conditions, thundering and lightning as a tropical summer storm hit the capital.

   Second-placed Gamba could not take advantage of Antlers' failure to win, and lost 2-1 away to Shimizu S-Pulse when substitute Daisuke Ichikawa headed home a golden goal seven minutes into sudden-death extra time.

   Fourth-placed FC Tokyo lost 2-0 at home to Kashiwa Reysol, for whom playmaker Harutaka Ohno laid on the first for Hideaki Kitajima and scored the second himself, and Avispa beat Nagoya Grampus Eight 3-2 after Grampus missed a string of chances created by Dragan Stojkovic.

   At the bottom, Kawasaki Frontale beat Vissel Kobe 2-1 at home to move on to 15 points for the two stages, four adrift of Kyoto Purple Sanga, who collected another three valuable points with a 3-1 victory at home to Sanfrecce.
   Purple Sanga now have 19 points and are only four behind JEF United in the "safe" 14th spot on 23 points after JEF crumbled 4-1 at home to Verdy Kawasaki. The bottom two go down when the points are combined from the two stages.