Dragan Stojkovic. Better than Wenger

Well sort of, if you squint lots, but he's done well has Dragan.  Michael Hudson couldn't let Nagoya Grampus' first J League title pass without a few words.

“This is an unforgettable moment and this is history," said Nagoya Grampus boss Dragan Stojkovic minutes after achieving something not even Arsene Wenger could manage: a J1 title for the Aichi club.  In the end, a 66th-minute Keiji Tamada header was enough to beat a spirited Shonan Bellmare side. Stojkovic’s players tossed him in the air while 2,500 travelling supporters covered the pitch with red and yellow paper and Toyoda Akio, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation, smiled and shook hands with anybody he could reach.

"This is a big success. To be a champion is a really nice feeling," Stojkovic later said. "I think my boys deserved it. I'd like to congratulate everybody." No-one deserved those congratulations more than goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki, a veteran of four World Cups and over 300 appearances for Nagoya, who pulled off crucial back-to-back saves midway through the first half as already-relegated Shonan threatened to overwhelm their nervy visitors. "Football is about combining excellent players with excellent tactics,” congratulated home boss Yasuharu Sorimachi after the game, in a possible nod to the problems currently afflicting Fabio Capello. "Today they handled the dangerous moments very well."

Stojkovic, whose team finished ninth last year, recently revealed his ambition to eventually manage in England. "There are a lot of emotions," he said.  "I've been at this club almost 10 years, seven as a player and three as a manger, and I'm very proud to have written a new page in Nagoya Grampus' history.”

They won’t be quite so pleased at Kashima.  After successfully hunting down both Urawa Reds and Kawasaki Frontale in recent years, the Antlers were held to a goalless draw at struggling Kobe, who lost star forward Yoshito Okubo to injury before the game.  It was the defending champions’ eleventh draw of the season, compared to Nagoya’s three. "My philosophy is that we always try to play offensive and attacking football," was Stojkovic’s mid-season answer to reporters after Grampus shipped four goals in both Kawasaki and Niigata.  Kashima now face a three-match sprint for second with Gamba Osaka, 2-0 winners at mid-table Urawa Reds.

Elsewhere, a 0-0 home draw against Montedio Yamagata led to exultation in Iwata as Jubilo lived up to their name and secured J-League status.  Yamagata are one of three clubs on thirty-seven points after Sendai lost 3-1 at home to Shimizu and Omiya Ardija continued their annual quest to be slightly better than the three relegated clubs with a workmanlike 2-0 victory in Kyoto. Ardija can now celebrate Japanese Labour Day and give their supporters yet another year in J1 to look forward to with a home win against Kobe on Tuesday afternoon.  Next up for Sendai is a trip over snow country to Albirex Niigata, while Yamagata’s mountain gods look to add to Kyoto’s season-long misery.

Still knee-deep in trouble on thirty-two points are FC Tokyo, whose 2-1 home defeat to Kawasaki Frontale leaves them a just single point above the final relegation place.  The capital city’s sole representatives in the top-flight now travel to Nagoya - who they must hope will still be hungover on Toyota Motor Corp. champagne.  ‘A Painful Defeat’ was the Asahi Shimbun’s verdict on Saturday’s game.  As neighbours Tokyo Verdy know only too well, there’s nothing as painful as the effects of relegation.

As well as writing for IBWM, Michael is responsible for the fine ‘The Accidental Groundhopper‘ (which we mistakenly labelled the 'accidental grasshopper' last week - see what we did there) blog. You can follow him on Twitter @DolphinHotel.

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