KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREF. – J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima gave themselves the mental edge for the stretch run of the season with a resounding 3-1 victory over Kashima Antlers in the Emperor’s Cup round of 16 on Saturday.
Sanfrecce rode Japanese international Yojiro Takahagi’s first-half brace to reach the Dec. 22 quarterfinals after a teasing preview of the matchup on the final weekend of the J.League.
Third-place Sanfrecce and fourth-place Antlers meet again at Kashima Stadium on Dec. 7. The top four teams, with Yokohama F.Marinos on top and Urawa Reds in second, are separated by just three points with three games left to play.
Tsukasa Shiotani also netted for Hajime Moriyasu’s side, which has yet to lift the cup since the J.League was launched two decades ago.
“If my memory serves correct, I don’t think I’ve had two goals in one game since we were still in J2,” said Takahagi, whose side will face either Ventforet Kofu or the second division’s Consadole Sapporo in the next round.
“We didn’t prepare any differently for this game than we normally do. We see the Emperor’s Cup and the league as two entirely different competitions, but it can be tricky to play the same team twice in such a short space of time.”
“What we wanted to do was come here and play well enough to give ourselves the psychological advantage for the next time we face them.”
The Emperor’s Cup will have new champions in the last New Year’s Day final at the existing National Stadium after holders Kashiwa Reysol were stunned 1-0 by relegated Oita Trinita, who won it in the 91st minute through substitute Hironori Nishi in the neutral venue of Okayama.
Oita play either Marinos or amateur outfit AC Nagano Parceiro in the quarters.
Vegalta Sendai also advanced with a 1-0 away win to Shimizu S-Pulse, North Korean international Ryong Yang Gi scoring the lone goal eight minutes from time.
Hiroshima had an unexpected, lopsided lead after a clumsy first half marred by the poor decision-making of young referee Takuto Okabe.
Sanfrecce goalkeeper Takuya Masuda probably should have been sent off in the 11th minute as he nailed Davi on the edge of his box with the Brazilian appearing to be the last man out.
Kashima lucked out in the 39th minute, when Hiroshima winger Mihael Mikic had a clear run toward the goal but was tripped up by defender Kazuya Yamamura, who was only given a yellow for the offense.
Takahagi opened the scoring after 28 minutes, mopping up the deflection of a Naoki Ishihara effort to hit past Hitoshi Sogahata from close range.
The visitors doubled their advantage four minutes before the break from a Takahagi 20-meter free kick, which ricocheted off the wall to Kazuyuki Morisaki.
Morisaki picked out Shiotani unmarked inside the area, and Shiotani did well to hold his nerves by firing in Hiroshima’s second with authority.
Sanfrecce weren’t done for the half, however, as Takahagi made it 3-0 in the first minute of injury time from the edge of the six-yard box, captain Hisato Sato setting up the goal with a header for the far post following a Mikic cross.
The hosts had no choice but to push up in the second half, and 20-year-old right-back Yukitoshi Ito pulled one back in the 79th minute with his maiden strike for the storied club.
Yet four-time winners Antlers would not get any closer as Sanfrecce managed the game well the rest of the way, booking a spot in the last eight.
“It’s nice to know we’ll be playing deeper into December now,” Moriyasu said. “Kashima have won all the titles and their players know what it takes to win any tournament, so beating a club like them gives us a lot of confidence.”
“But this win doesn’t guarantee anything for when we play them again next month. The lineups will be different, the tactics will be different and we need to bear that in mind.”