TOKYO, Jan. 1 -- Striker Koji Noguchi propelled Bellmare Hiratsuka to a 2-0 win Sunday against Cerezo Osaka in the final of the Emperor's Cup, Japan's premier knockout competition, with a pair of second-half goals. A crowd of 48,000 packed the Tokyo National Stadium on a sunny New Year's day to watch Bellmare take its first title in 15 years when it clinched the All-Japan Soccer Championships in a dream year for the team.
Bellmare did not have it all its own way though, especially in the first half, as the Osaka minnows, who are not even J.League regulars yet, defended with determination. Noguchi fired in his opener just after the turn in the 47th minute when Bellmare defender Akira Narahashi ran down the midfield, lofting the ball into the box. Brazilian forward Almir de Souza Fraga passed the ball to Noguchi who fired into the right corner, only barely wrongfooting keeper Jiro Takeda. Bellamre, which comes from a town on the ouskirts of Tokyo, assaulted the goals of the Osaka team repeatedly in the second half and the efforts paid dividends with only four minutes remaining. Noguchi fired a piledriver into the Cerezo goal which bounced off the bar before landing in the net, to seal the match. Hiratsuka finshed second in the 12-team J.League series behind Verdy Kawasaki in only its first year in the professional ranks. It will face Kawasaki in the Super Cup on March 11. Cerezo, which beat Yokohama Marinos to clinch a spot in the cup final, will join the J. League next season. pjk