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Emperor's Cup Final: Kashima Antlers 2-1 Shimizu S-Pulse

The curtain fell on the 19th season of professional football in Japan in the same way it staerted: with a victory by Kashima Antlers, this time in the Emperor's Cup Final.

Zico’s former club lifted the Japanese Supercup back in late February and they claimed their fourth Emperor’s Cup in front of a packed National Stadium in Tokyo on New Year’s Day.

Oswaldo de Oliveira’s men beat Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 after 90 minutes of good football on a sunny winter afternoon. A first half dominated by Antlers contrasted with a balanced second half and while both teams had their moments, the Kashima players kept their concentration when it mattered.

It is no surprise that their decisive goal came from Takuji Nogawa, a player who has lived his career under the radar, though crucial to many of his clubs’s triumphs.

The dynamic midfielder this time won the game with perfect free kick with 13 minutes remaining.

Before that, in the first half Brazilian Felipe Gabriel had given Kashima the lead with a header from a corner kick but Shimizu equalized with a well placed lob by Frode Johnsen on the hour mark.

The towering Norwegian forward was at playing his last game in Japan after five years and more than 150 goals, having played for both Nagoya Grampus and Shimizu S-Pulse.

It might also have been the swan song game Shinji Okazaki at S-Pulse, tipped to transfer to VfB Stuttgart. However, the prolific striker failed to impress and never looked like leaving his mark on the final.

Kenta Hasegawa also bid farewell after a combined fifteen years at S-Pulse as player and manager, while Go Oiwa (ironically, a native of Shimizu) retired at 36 after a glorious career that ended with eight seasons at Kashima.

For all the good football they have produced in 2010, it was yet another disappointing trophy-less season for S-Pulse. With Hasegawa leaving, it's the dawn of a new ear for Shimizu with the coming of Iranian manager Afshin Ghotbi next season.

For Antlers it's yet another title that comes with the bonus of the right to open the next season in the Xerox Supercup against Nagoya Grampus and a berth in the Asian Champions League.

Follow Cesare Polenghi on Twitter.

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