J. League champions Kashima Antlers edged Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 on Saturday to set up a New Year’s Day date with relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the final of the Emperor’s Cup.

News photoSanfrecce Hiroshima forward Hisato Sato reacts after scoring a goal in the first half of the Emperor’s
Cup semifinal match against Gamba Osaka on Saturday at Shizuoka’s Ecopa Stadium. Sanfrecce won 3-1 to set
up the final with Kashima Antlers on Jan. 1 at National Stadium.

Masashi Motoyama hit the decider with a second-half blockbuster to put Kashima within touching distance of a league and cup double, while Hiroshima advanced thanks to a surprise 3-1 win over last year’s beaten finalists Gamba Osaka.

“I didn’t really defend very well today and I am really pleased to have made up for that by scoring,” said Motoyama. “This is a trophy we definitely have to win.”

Chances were at a premium in a dull first half at the National Stadium, the best opportunity falling to Kazuhiro Murakami, who had a shot well blocked by Kashima keeper Hitoshi Sogahata after 11 minutes.

At the other end, Motoyama did well to cut inside two defenders but saw his shot fizz just over the crossbar shortly before the interval.

Nabisco Cup finalists Frontale looked the more likely to break the deadlock in the second period with Sogahata pulling off great saves to deny an out-of-sorts Juninho and Chong Tese.

But Motoyama settled the match 18 minutes from time when he smashed a superb volley past Eiji Kawashima, sparking wild celebrations on the Kashima bench.

“I’m very happy,” said Kashima manager Oswaldo Oliveira. “I think we have now won 10 or 11 games in a row so this is great. It is very important for me and it also gives the players much more confidence to face the final.”

At Ecopa Stadium Shizuoka, Japan striker Hisato Sato gave Hiroshima the lead after just 60 seconds and then set up Ryuichi Hirashige to double his team’s advantage seven minutes before halftime.

Bare halved Gamba’s deficit on 40 minutes but substitute Issei Takayanagi put Hiroshima into their first Emperor’s Cup final in eight years by sealing victory from the edge of the box deep into stoppage time.

“We knew what a strong, talented side Gamba are but we played some good soccer and I thought the way we played was worthy of victory,” said Sanfrecce manager Mihailo Petrovic.

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