SAITAMA – Holders Gamba Osaka take on Kashima Antlers in the Nabisco Cup final on Saturday, looking to clear the first hurdle en route to a second consecutive domestic treble, but manager Kenta Hasegawa has brushed aside suggestions that his team holds a psychological edge ahead of the clash of J. League titans in Saitama.
Gamba, who came from 2-0 down to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 in last year’s final, have won their last four meetings against Kashima in the league and Nabisco Cup, including a home-and-away double in the league this season.
A penalty from former Japan midfielder and Gamba captain Yasuhito Endo sealed a 2-0 win at Expo Stadium in the first stage in June, while a double from star striker Takashi Usami earned a 2-1 win in Ibaraki Prefecture last month.
But speaking at a news conference on the eve of the final, Hasegawa said, “I don’t think we have any advantage whatsoever. It’s a one-off final so it’s a different ball game to the league.
“As (Kashima) manager (Masatada) Ishii just said, Kashima have won this tournament (a record) five times and that shows they are a fantastic team. They have hardly any weaknesses to exploit and I won’t be thinking about past results against them.”
Endo echoed his manager’s comments, although both men’s body language oozed confidence as they sat alongside Ishii and Kashima midfielder Gaku Shibasaki.
“We have beaten Kashima in the league this season but they have a lot of players with a wealth of experience and they probably know how they have to play against us tomorrow,” said Endo.
“We won’t be able to beat them unless we give at least 100 percent.”
Despite a punishing fixture schedule, Gamba reached the semifinals of the Asian Champions League, they are still in contention for a place in the post-season J. League championship and also still alive in the Emperor’s Cup.
“We lost in the ACL and we have only got domestic titles to play for now,” said Hasegawa. “Last season we won the treble and as long as we have a chance to do that again this season we will go for another sweep of all three.
“I am happy that we are back in the Nabisco final again this season. We have had a tight fixture schedule and used a lot of players but they have pulled together and won through to the final again. They deserve a lot of credit.”
Seven-time league champions Kashima has not won any silverware since beating Shimizu S-Pulse 2-1 in extra time in the Nabisco Cup final in 2012.
“People expect a team like Kashima to be winning titles and tomorrow provides us with a good opportunity to start doing that again,” said veteran midfielder and captain Mitsuo Ogasawara.
“We might have lost to Gamba in both league games this season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to lose this one as well.
“It’s a different tournament and that is not something that will be playing on our minds. We have to pull together and try and get the win. We have prepared well and I think we can put on a good performance.”
Added Kashima defender Gen Shoji, “Both myself and the rest of the group are relaxed and there is a good atmosphere in the team. The fact that we have won this title five times in the past gives us confidence.”
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