Omiya and Shimizu fought an extraordinary duel on Wednesday in the fifth round of group matches for this year's Yamazaki Nabisco Cup but in the end it was the sheer power of Brazilian striker Bare which broke the deadlock and earned Shimizu an impressive away win. Yokohama joined Iwata at the top of Group A with victory at Shonan and cup holders Kashima moved to the top of Group B with their third straight victory, this time at home to Nagoya.
Omiya Ardija had only just set the all-time J1 record of 18 league games without defeat but Shimizu S-Pulse were far from over-awed and visibly grew in the course of the match to recover quickly from falling behind, take the lead and then win 3-2 after Omiya also hit straight back.
"I think that was a fantastic game for football and for football fans," said Shimizu manager Afshin Ghotbi, "and it was made even more special because we won. Omiya are one of the best teams in Japan, so I think this is very special for our players."
Omiya had won two and lost two in the cup so far and badly needed to win this one to stay in strong contention to advance. Shimizu were still looking for their first win of the tournament but their results have been improving after a weak start to the season and this was possibly the evening when everything fell into place. While both teams started with a slightly experimental-looking side in view of the tight match schedule, they finished with an all-out push for victory that left absolutely no doubt about their determination to win.
Omiya were encouraged by the return of Carlinhos to the line-up for his first start of the season and also young forward Shintaro Shimizu's first goal of the campaign. S-Pulse started with the old Tsukuba University strike force of agile Kohei Hattanda and tall Yuji Senuma and with Toshiyuki Takagi, especially, supporting superbly first from the left and then from the middle later in the game. The battle then climaxed in the second half with the foreign strikers' entry into the arena.
Omiya began with all the self-belief you would expect after setting that extraordinary unbeaten mark in the league on Saturday against close neighbours Urawa and Shimizu's initial priority was to keep their opponents at a safe distance from goal. The first big chance beckoned at Kota Ueda's 8th minute corner. Yosuke Kataoka headed well but that shot was deflected behind for a second corner. Carlinhos took that one and his sharp delivery flew tantalisingly beyond incoming Kosuke Kikuchi's reach. The openings now followed thick and fast for Omiya. Fullback Tomoki Imai crossed cleverly into the box. Ueda and Daisuke Watabe both had shots on goal.
Shimizu were also finding their feet, however, and from midway through the half began to create a series of chances of their own. Ghotbi then brought Bare on at half time to see if he could put those opportunities away. It was Omiya, even so, who seized the lead in the 52nd minute. Kazuhiro Murakami dribbled powerfully through the middle and laid forward for Shintaro Shimizu to turn his man and deliver the finishing touch. The goal was squeezed through the slenderest gap almost by sheer force of will.
Amazingly, S-Pulse only needed three minutes to hit back. Takagi played the telling ball out wide to Bare and the Brazilian dribbled explosively into the box to rifle his shot home. Omiya responded by bringing on Zlatan Ljubijankic and Milivoje Novakovic but Koji Ezumi in the Omiya goal was getting increasingly busy with saves from Bare, Takagi and also Yasuhiro Hiraoka. Ascendant Shimizu appeared to have collected their reward when, starting at skipper Calvin Jong a Pin's throw-in, Yutaka Yoshida crossed diagonally and Hiraoka headed in.
That, however, was only the first of three goals in an amazing five minute spell. This time, Omiya struck back in only a minute, Ljubijankic receiving Watabe's long ball through the centre and crossing for Novakovic to beat his marker and touch in. Then it was Bare's turn again. Takagi brought the ball through and laid aside for Bare to slide in the winner. The excitement continued at fever pitch. Ljubijankic had a glorious chance to equalise when Yoshida slipped to give him a free shot at goal but that one flew into the side netting. It could have been all square again at that point but instead Shimizu held on to record a fabulous win. As the final whistle blew, the Shimizu chant changed to a joyous call for Bare.
Also in Group A, Yokohama recovered from their disappointment at home to Omiya in the last round to win 1-0 at Shonan Bellmare. Marquinhos headed in the only goal of that game at Dutra's 44th minute cross. The result lifted league leaders Yokohama, who have only won the cup once in 2001, level with Iwata at the top on nine points from four games but Iwata still have the better goal difference. They will play each other head to head in round six in Yokohama on May 15th.
Kawasaki Frontale did their prospects of catching one or other of the leaders, or both if they draw that match, a huge boost by winning 3-1 at Ventforet Kofu. Kawasaki are now on seven points, only two behind Iwata and Yokohama. Jose Ortigoza cancelled out Takuro Yajima's 33rd minute header shortly before half time but second half goals by Yuki Saneto and Yoshito Okubo, from the penalty spot, clinched the win for the visitors.
Kashima Antlers have now won three in a row in Group B since dropping their opening match at home to Tokyo and this time leapfrogged Nagoya Grampus on the strength of a 23rd minute goal by Juninho, assisted by Yuya Osako. Kashima's bid to win the cup an amazing third year in succession and sixth time overall is firmly back on track. The triumph was, however, marred by the late sending off of Daiki Iwamasa for a second yellow card.
FC Tokyo edged up level with Nagoya on six points, one behind Cerezo and now three behind Kashima, by drawing 0-0 at Oita Trinita. That was the third draw of the tournament for both Tokyo and Oita but Oita, three points further behind with a game in hand, are still looking for their first win.
Sagan Tosu secured their first victory in this year's Yamazaki Nabisco Cup 2-0 at home to Albirex Niigata to join Niigata on four points. Both goals there came in the second half, the first from Yohei Toyoda in the 61st minute and the second by substitute Ryota Hayasaka in the final minute of ordinary time.
The two group leaders at the start of the round, Jubilo Iwata in Group A and Cerezo Osaka in Group B, had no match this time.
This year's J. League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup is the landmark twenty-first tournament in the series which started in 1992. This season, too, 14 J1 teams have been divided into two groups of seven with the top two from each group advancing to contest the quarter-finals with the four J. League teams currently participating in the AFC Champions League. The group stage runs from March 20th to May 22nd with the two-legged quarter-finals following on June 23rd and 30th, the semi-finals on September 7th and October 12th, and the final November 2nd or 4th.