Kashiwa Reysol set up a New Year’s Day Emperor’s Cup final showdown with Gamba Osaka after beating Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 on Saturday.
Reysol and Marinos both went into the semifinal at National Stadium determined to end their record of never having won the competition during the 20 years of the J.League era, but a 23rd-minute goal from Masato Kudo ensured it would be Kashiwa returning to the same venue on Tuesday.
Gamba beat Kashima Antlers 1-0 in the day’s other semi thanks to a Yasuhito Endo goal midway through the first half, giving Reysol the chance for revenge after losing 1-0 to the Osaka side in the final in 2008.
“Our rhythm today was excellent right from the start,” said Kashiwa manager Nelsinho. “We defended with discipline and we were able to link up with the attack very well, and that got us our goal. Then Marinos began to pull us out of position, and I told the players at halftime that we had to go back to the way we had started the game.
“We were under pressure from their high balls, and we had to throw ourselves into a lot of tackles and blocks, but we had something to play for. Our aim was to get to the final, and it is very satisfying that we managed to achieve that.”
Kudo continued his goalscoring form after hitting a last-minute winner in Reysol’s 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Omiya Ardija last Sunday, but the striker will now miss the final through suspension after picking up a yellow card for timewasting.
“The win over Omiya was very important for the team,” Kudo said. “To come back from two goals down showed us what we were capable of doing, and for me personally to score the winner was important, too.
“The players who didn’t play today did a crucial job in supporting the rest of the team, and I’ll be trying to do the same in the final. Whether or not you are contributing on the pitch, you can still contribute to the team.”
Both teams struggled to fashion clear-cut chances in a lively opening period, but Kudo gave Reysol the lead with an opportunist’s goal. Marinos defender Yuji Nakazawa stretched to head the ball off the line after Masakatsu Sawa had connected with a Jorge Wagner cross, but Kudo was on hand to nod it home with Nakazawa unable to recover.
Shunsuke Nakamura almost hit back with a long-range shot that ricocheted off goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno’s fist at a dangerous angle, before Kashiwa winger Koki Mizuno let fly with a stinging drive that narrowly cleared the Yokohama crossbar.
But the game then settled into a dour war of attrition as both teams looked to hit on the counterattack, and wayward attempts from Nakamura and halftime substitute Marquinhos did little to help Marinos’ cause.
Nakamura went closer with an 81st-minute free kick that missed its target by the smallest of margins, before Sugeno finally snuffed out Yokohama’s hopes with a brave injury-time block on the line from substitute Hiroyuki Taniguchi.
“It’s disappointing to lose in the semifinals, just as we did last year,” said Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. “This club hasn’t been in the final on New Year’s Day for something like 20 years, so it’s disappointing that we couldn’t do it for the fans.
“Our players never stopped looking for a goal, and they kept going until the end. But our opponents were very aggressive in going for loose balls in midfield right from the start, and because of that we were never able to settle.”
In the day’s earlier semifinal at Ecopa Stadium, Nabisco Cup winners Antlers took on Gamba looking to give manager Jorginho a grand sendoff with a place in another final before he leaves the club at the end of the campaign.
But Endo had other ideas, curling in the winner in the 23rd minute to put Gamba one victory away from a remarkable double after being relegated from the J.League first division this season for the first time.