Second-half substitute Masashi Nakayama struck a late winner Saturday as defending champion Jubilo Iwata came from behind to beat the Urawa Reds 2-1 in the Emperor’s Cup semifinals to set up a meeting with Tokyo Verdy in the New Year’s Day final.
Verdy ran out a 3-1 winner over Gamba Osaka to book its place in the final for the first time since winning the tournament as Verdy Kawasaki eight seasons ago.
At Tokyo’s National Stadium, Urawa was the better side for much of the game and took a deserved lead in the 72nd minute when Tatsuya Tanaka met a right-wing cross from Yuichiro Nagai and wrong-footed goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi with a free header.
Iwata showed remarkable resilience in what had looked like a one-sided affair, as veteran Japan midfielder Toshiya Fujita took advantage of a momentary lapse of concentration in the Urawa defense and poked home the equalizer one minute later.
Then the match developed into an end-to-end encounter and Fujita had a goal disallowed for offside before Nakayama, who came on in the 61st minute for Ryoichi Maeda, sealed a dramatic win for Iwata.
Fed by a low cross from Nobuo Kawaguchi, Norihiro Nishi outwitted three defenders at the edge of the penalty area and put Nakayama through. The 37-year-old veteran kept his cool to beat Yamagishi with a left-footed shot for his first goal of the tournament.
“It feels so good. I knew I had to get my job done, or I would have no place in the team,” the former Japan striker said. “Our defense showed tenacity in the face of the Reds’ onslaught and that made me feel we still had a chance to turn the game around.”
The victory pulled Masakuni Yamamoto’s side within one win of lifting its only silverware in an otherwise disappointing season.
In Saturday’s other semifinal, Yoshiyuki Kobayashi and Kazuki Hiramoto scored first-half goals to put Verdy on the way to a comfortable victory over Gamba at Nagai Stadium in Osaka.
Kobayashi headed Verdy into the lead after 15 minutes, before Hiramoto pounced on a poor clearance to slot home the second 11 minutes later as the visitors capitalized on sloppy defending by Gamba.
Atsushi Yoneyama put the issue beyond doubt with a 59th-minute header, before Gamba pulled one back through Masanobu Matsunami seven minutes from the final whistle.
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