SUITA, OSAKA PREF. – Holders Gamba Osaka advanced to the final of the Nabisco Cup on Sunday after a 2-0 win over Albirex Niigata in the second leg of their semifinal.
Niigata won the first leg 2-1 on Wednesday but former Japan midfielder Yasuhito Endo fired in a trademark free kick in the 57th minute and Hiroki Fujiharu added a late second to complete a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Gamba will face fellow J. League heavyweight Kashima Antlers in the final on Oct. 31 final in Saitama.
Mu Kanazaki was on target twice as five-time champion Kashima hammered Vissel Kobe 4-1 to advance 6-2 on aggregate.
“Our main objective was to win the game,” said Endo. “We got an away goal (on Wednesday) and had to be patient and try and give ourselves the advantage by scoring first today.
“We did not have many chances in the first half but everyone was really up for it for the second half and it was a good game. We would like to have got a second goal a bit quicker but Fujiharu did well to score. That made it easier for us.”
Despite a punishing fixture schedule, Gamba, who won a domestic treble last season, are still in title contention in the league, the Emperor’s Cup and the Asian Champions League.
Asked about the Nabisco final, Endo said, “That is still a way off and before that we have some important games. But we will do our best to defend the (Nabisco) title.”
Gamba were unable to make any impact in the final third of the pitch in the first half and it was Niigata that twice went close to opening the scoring at Expo Stadium.
Shu Hiramatsu glanced a free kick from Takanori Maeno just wide and Ryohei Yamazaki crashed a volley off the outside of the right post a minute before halftime.
Gamba went close to breaking the deadlock in the 50th minute when Hiroyuki Abe sent a shot fizzing over the crossbar and they finally made the breakthrough when Endo sent his free kick over the Niigata wall and beyond goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita.
“I wasn’t sure if the ball was going to go in but it did and it was a crucial goal to give us the lead,” Endo said.
Rafael Silva, who scored Niigata’s winner in the first leg, forced a key save from Yosuke Fujigaya with nine minutes left, but Fujiharu rolled into an unguarded net in the fourth minute of injury time as Morita scurried back to his goal after going up for a corner.