Holder Gamba Osaka set up an Emperor’s Cup final showdown with Nagoya Grampus after beating feisty second-division champion Vegalta Sendai 2-1 on Tuesday.

Lucas gave Gamba a flying start when he pounced on an errant punch from Sendai goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi in the fourth minute, only to see the Tohoku side claw its way back just before the hour mark through Takayuki Nakahara at National Stadium.

But Lucas struck again with an opportunist’s finish seven minutes later to send Gamba into a Jan. 1 meeting with Grampus, who came through a penalty shootout against Shimizu S-Pulse after a 1-1 draw earlier in the day.

“We’ve had two weeks since we played the quarterfinal, and you might think that would give us good time to prepare,” Gamba manager Akira Nishino said. “But we played very well in that game and I was keen to keep the momentum going.

“We started well and we were aggressive, but after we scored we allowed Sendai to play at their pace and hit us on the counter. We needed to speed things up a bit and it didn’t help that the ball wasn’t moving so well over the pitch. Eventually we got on top of it, and now we’ve got one more game to finish it off.”

Sendai’s hopes of an upset took an immediate dent when Hayashi swung a wild fist at Michihiro Yasuda’s cross, sending the ball spiraling high into the air with Gamba’s attackers waiting to take advantage. Lucas reached it first, launching himself into a scissor kick to slam the ball past a red-faced Hayashi.

Only a smart interception by Yasuda denied Yuki Nakashima as Sendai went in search of a response, and Gamba had the post to thank for keeping out Naoki Chiba’s header shortly before halftime.

Fifteen minutes after the break, Nakahara gave Sendai its reward. Kunimitsu Sekiguchi skinned defender Satoshi Yamaguchi before sending a low cross into the box, and the striker hit the ball first time to notch the equalizer.

But after working so hard to get back into the match, Vegalta found themselves behind again in the 66th minute. A deflection found its way through to Lucas free in front of goal, and the Brazilian needed no second invitation to ram home the loose ball.

“We let in a goal after just a few minutes but we showed how far we’ve come by not allowing them to score any more,” said Sendai manager Makoto Teguramori. “We were caught out with the second goal but this tournament has been a great experience for us. We’ve played four first-division teams and we can use what we’ve learned in those games next season.”

Shinji Okazaki gave S-Pulse the lead in the 17th minute at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, latching onto a Takuya Honda through-ball to clip the ball over the onrushing Seigo Narazaki.

Keiji Tamada leveled with a 57th-minute penalty for Grampus, and when 30 minutes of extra time was not enough to separate the teams, the match entered a shootout.

Josh Kennedy dispatched Nagoya’s first effort but Daisuke Ichikawa fluffed his, giving Grampus an advantage they did not relinquish as the remaining takers all hit the net to give Dragan Stojkovic’s men a 5-3 win.

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