SAITAMA – Kashima Antlers lit the touchpaper in the second half to beat Gamba Osaka 3-0 and win the Nabisco Cup for a record sixth time on Saturday.
Kashima dominated the match in front of 50,828 at Saitama Stadium but had to wait until the 60th minute before Hwang Seok-ho broke the deadlock after evading the Gamba defense at a corner.
Mu Kanazaki then scored a second in the 84th minute following another corner from man-of-the-match Mitsuo Ogasawara, before substitute Caio added gloss to the scoreline with a third four minutes from time.
The win gave Antlers their sixth Nabisco Cup title — twice as many as any other J. League club — and their first trophy since they last won the competition in 2012.
“Every player did their job today and everyone kept going for the full 90 minutes,” said captain Ogasawara. “Defending isn’t done by just one player but by the whole team, and that starts with the players at the front.
“I was given the MVP award today but everyone at Antlers was the MVP, including the players who didn’t play today and the supporters.”
Antlers burnished their record as Japan’s most successful team with their 17th trophy, and the first for manager Masatada Ishii, who took over from Toninho Cerezo in July.
“I’ve only been a manager for a few months and really I felt this victory today like a player,” said Ishii.
“We controlled the game in the first half but Gamba were always dangerous on the counterattack. They could have scored in the second half, and if they had done it could have been a very different game. Our defense held firm and we kept a clean sheet, so really we played the perfect game.”
Kashima’s win ended Gamba’s hopes of repeating last season’s trophy treble, leaving manager Kenta Hasegawa to focus on the J. League with two games of the regular season remaining.
“It was a total defeat,” said Hasegawa, whose side currently sits third in the league table. “We just couldn’t live with Kashima. They gave a performance worthy of a final.
“Now we have to get over this result and get ready for the games to come. I want this season to finish well, and we have to put this behind us for that to happen.”
Kashima made a ferocious start and went close to opening the scoring on several occasions. Yasushi Endo lifted a shot over the top in the second minute, before Yasuhito Endo bailed Gamba out 10 minutes later when he headed Atsutaka Nakamura’s goal-bound shot over the bar.
Hasegawa tried to stem the tide by replacing center back Takaharu Nishino with substitute Keisuke Iwashita on the half-hour mark, but Antlers kept up the pressure and Daiki Niwa had to clear a Shuhei Akasaki shot off the line minutes before halftime.
Gamba began to show more ambition after the restart, and Takashi Usami almost hit the target with a shot from distance in the 54th minute.
But Hwang gave Antlers the lead they deserved soon after, heading home Ogasawara’s corner after making a clever run into the box.
“This is my debut goal since joining Kashima, so I’m delighted,” said Hwang, who joined Antlers from Sanfrecce Hiroshima over the winter. “It is a big win for the club and the players, and now we can go into the last two games of the season with confidence.”
Kanazaki added another six minutes from time, heading past goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi after Yuma Suzuki had nodded another Ogasawara corner his way.
Caio then added the icing on the cake two minutes later, firing home in clinical fashion after a fast break forward.
“Kashima were better than us in every department,” said Gamba midfielder Endo. “We couldn’t score or keep the ball, so the result is not a surprise.”
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