KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Gamba Osaka dashed Kashima Antlers’ hopes of a league-and-cup double with a 2-1 win in the Emperor’s Cup quarterfinals on Saturday.
Masato Yamazaki opened the scoring in the 30th minute only to see Yuzo Tashiro equalize for the J. League champions with practically the last kick of the first half at Kashima Stadium.
But a defensive mixup allowed Yamazaki to notch his second in the 70th minute, giving Gamba sweet revenge after falling out of the J. League title race with a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the same opponent on the penultimate weekend of the season.
“Two weeks ago we weren’t able to find our rhythm and play our style of football here, so the challenge was to show what we could do rather than worrying about Kashima,” said Gamba manager Akira Nishino. “Antlers became league champions, but maybe they haven’t got over the effects of the celebration champagne.
“It was disappointing to concede a goal in injury time, but we came back with aggression after the break and got the result we wanted through hard work. Now we have two games left, and we want to make sure they are the best games we play this year.”
Kawasaki Frontale, meanwhile, will have to wait at least another year to claim their first major silverware after going down 2-1 at Vegalta Sendai after extra time.
Yuki Nakashima gave newly promoted Vegalta a first-half lead at Yurtec Stadium, but Kazuhiro Murakami’s last-minute equalizer gave Frontale hope of salvaging something from their season after falling just short in the league championship race.
Tomoyuki Hirase had other ideas, however, scoring in the 109th minute to send Vegalta into a semifinal meeting with cup-holders Gamba on Dec. 29.
Shimizu S-Pulse also made the final four with a 3-2 extra-time win over Albirex Niigata, and will face either Nagoya Grampus or FC Gifu, who play on Sunday.
Shinzo Koroki hit the crossbar with an early chance at Kashima Stadium, but it was Gamba who took the lead on the half-hour mark.
A debatable foul on Yamazaki gave Yasuhito Endo time to deliver a free kick into the box, and Yamazaki got just enough purchase on his glancing header to send the ball past Hitoshi Sogahata.
Takuya Nozawa hit the post with a long-range effort as Kashima attempted to hit back, and Tashiro brought the home side level deep into first-half injury time. The striker hit the woodwork after being sent clean through on goal, but made amends by pouncing on the rebound for the equalizer.
Yellow cards for Daiki Iwamasa and Satoshi Yamaguchi immediately after the restart suggested there would be no letup in the second half, and Koroki and Endo both missed opportunities to edge their sides in front.
When Gamba did manage to find the target, however, Antlers had no one but themselves to blame. Toru Araiba’s error allowed Hideo Hashimoto to send in a low cross, and Atsuto Uchida got his feet tangled up when the ball arrived to leave Yamazaki free to poke home his second.
‘Keeper Sogahata came up for an injury-time corner as Kashima threw caution to the wind, but manager Oswaldo Oliveira had few complaints when the final push fell short.
“We missed a lot of shots and committed some mistakes, but in my view Gamba deserved it,” he said. “They are a very good team with one of the best midfields in Japan for sure. I don’t like to lose and I want to be in the final, but you have to understand that Gamba are a very good side.
“In our last game (against Gamba) we scored one and then we scored two. Perhaps today if we had scored first the atmosphere could have been different, but unfortunately we didn’t. This is the way of the game.”