YOKOHAMA – Yokohama F Marinos got payback for their heartbreaking defeat to Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the J-League title race with a 2-0 victory in the last Emperor’s Cup final at the existing National Stadium on Wednesday.
First-half goals from Manabu Saito and Yuji Nakazawa in a space of four minutes sent Marinos — appearing in the New Year’s Day showpiece for the first time in 21 years — past the two-time defending league champions and to the club’s first trophy since winning the league in 2004.
Marinos, who had beaten Sanfrecce twice this season, lost out on the J-League title on the final weekend to Hiroshima, who overtook Yasuhiro Higuchi’s men by one point to cap their dramatic turnaround.
Sanfrecce have reached the final five times since the 1993 launch of the J-League, but have yet to capture the Emperor’s Cup.
“It’s nice to win the cup but winning the league would’ve been better,” Marinos captain Shunsuke Nakamura said. “We had an opportunity to make up for things right away, and not have to wait until next season. I’m glad we ended the season like this.”
“We went out in the semifinals last year and the year before, so it’s nice we finally got it done.”
Before a sellout crowd of more than 46,000 at the stadium set to undergo reconstruction for the 2020 Olympics, Marinos moved in front in the 17th minute through Saito.
Yuzo Kobayashi started the sequence with a run from the right that broke down the defense, laying off to Shingo Hyodo who set up Saito on the edge of the box.
Saito hit past goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a drive for the bottom corner, netting his second goal of the tournament to give Marinos the advantage.
Sanfrecce nearly evened the score two minutes later when Naoki Ishihara tested the reflexes of Tetsuya Enomoto, who managed to save off the right-hand post.
Marinos doubled their lead after 21 minutes from a Nakamura corner, the former Celtic man picking out Kosuke Nakamachi for a header.
Nishikawa did well to keep out Nakamachi, but the rebound flew straight to Nakazawa who nodded into the net to give his side a two-goal cushion heading into the break.
Both teams had their share of close chances in the second half but neither could capitalize before the final whistle, which was sweet music to the ears of Marinos who lifted the cup for their seventh time.
“It’s nice we finally won a title after coming up short several times in the last few years,” Saito said. “There’s no individual gratification here; I’m just really happy the club won.”
Sanfrecce boss Hajime Moriyasu said the first 15, 20 minutes decided the game, but stressed his team have not been outplayed by Marinos after suffering their third defeat to them this season.
The two teams will meet again on Feb. 22 in the Fuji Xerox Super Cup, the curtain-raiser to the new J-League season.
“Marinos were more aggressive in the early phases and that made the rest of the match difficult for us,” Moriyasu said. “We didn’t have the results against them in the league either, but we don’t dislike playing them.”
“Marinos just started the game better than we did today. I’m pleased with the effort I got from my players throughout the whole season.”