Former Asian champions Urawa Reds hope to end a six-year title drought in Saturday’s Nabisco Cup final against Emperor’s Cup holders Kashiwa Reysol.
Reds have not won a single trophy since rising to the top of the continent with victory in the 2007 Asian Champions League, and the Saitama giants are eager to put a stop to the barren stretch that has gone on far too long for a club with Urawa’s budget and support.
“We’ve got a chance to win a title and we have to be sure to take it,” Urawa’s Japanese international Genki Haraguchi said Friday at National Stadium. “I’m really looking forward to the match tomorrow.”
Saturday’s showpiece will also be the last league cup final to be held at National Stadium before it undergoes a ¥300 billion renovation for the 2020 Olympics.
Urawa reached the final two years ago, but came out on the losing end to Kashima Antlers. Urawa last lifted the cup in 2003 while Kashiwa won in 1999 in its only trip to the final.
“It’s great to be in this final,” Reds captain Yuki Abe said. “I dreamed of playing here as a kid. This is a stadium with lots of history, and I hope we can make tomorrow’s game a memorable one for us.”
The two finalists sparred in the J. League last weekend, when Urawa prevailed 2-1 at home behind two early goals from Yosuke Kashiwagi. Reds also beat Reysol back in May, a 6-2 thrashing of Nelsinho’s side which actually hosted the game at National Stadium.
Mihailo Petrovic’s Reds have been on a recent roll, going unbeaten in their last six league and cup games; last week’s victory over Kashiwa pulled Urawa within two points of first-place Yokohama F. Marinos.
But Kashiwagi said his team’s most recent win against Reysol gives it no edge of any kind, and is no indication of how the final will unfold.
“We didn’t play that well, maybe for like 20, 30 minutes,” Kashiwagi said. “If we can score early like we did last time, great, but it’ll be more important to not concede.”
A third win off Kashiwa this season will also mean the first piece of silverware for Petrovic, who is in his eighth year in Japan.
“This is the last final at this National Stadium, and I truly hope we can win it,” said Petrovic, who coached Sanfrecce Hiroshima before arriving in Urawa last year.
“A cup final is always special and will be facing a brilliant side in Kashiwa Reysol; I won’t say how, but they are brilliant.”
Reysol fired up for final
Kashiwa Reysol manager Nelsinho believes his side has enough strength in depth to gain revenge over Urawa Reds when it meets the former Asian champions on Saturday in the Nabisco Cup final.
Kashiwa, which was hammered 6-2 in the league by Reds at this stadium in May and lost again Sunday when it went down 2-1 in Saitama, will be missing captain Hidekazu Otani and left-back Wataru Hashimoto, both suspended for the showcase match at National Stadium.
London Olympian Daisuke Suzuki has fitness issues after limping out of last week’s defeat and missed Friday’s training along with fellow defender Ryosuke Yamanaka.
But Nelsinho, who took his team to the semifinals of this season’s Asian Champions League, said, “As the leader of the team I have had to pay attention to every player we have got and that is what I have done the last four or five years.
“The players never know when their turn will come and but they prepare every day for it. We have gone through a lot as a team and were in a similar situation but won the Emperor’s Cup final last season.
“We feel settled going into the game tomorrow and will approach it in the same frame of mind.”
Midfielder Ryoichi Kurisawa, set to deputize as captain in Otani’s absence, echoed his coach and said there was no shortage of motivation in the team.
“The motivation is really high for the final right through the team,” he said. “Winning the trophy is the only thing on our minds and we want to deliver a performance that makes us worthy winners.”
On a positive note for Reysol, former J. League Player of the Year Leandro Domingues, who is making his way back from a groin injury, declared himself fit to start.
“I can last the 90 minutes,” said Leandro. “It was good that I could get one training match under my belt just to go over the tactics and combinations.
“Tomorrow is the final and we are ready to show who wants it more. Titles are important to us. We have won at least one every season since 2010 and we haven’t won this competition yet so it means a lot to us.”
Victory for the Emperor’s Cup holders would complete a full set of domestic trophies for Nelsinho, who also steered the Chiba club to the 2011 J. League title a year after winning the J2 championship.
In light of the absence of key personnel, Jorge Wagner is likely to start after being dropped to the bench in recent matches.
“We are prepared mentally and physically,” said Wagner. “Last week we started badly and conceded two goals early but after that we were OK. We have to pay more attention at the beginning of the match.”
Kashiwa is gunning for its second league cup. It won the 1999 trophy under Akira Nishino, beating Kashima Antlers 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.