Substitute Tadanari Lee headed an extra-time winner as Urawa Reds edged Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 on Tuesday to advance to the Emperor’s Cup final.
On target in the previous two rounds, Lee struck in the 117th minute of a tightly contested match to set Reds up with a meeting on Friday against holders Gamba Osaka.
“This is the greatest feeling,” said Lee. “I was watching from the bench telling my chance to come and telling myself I was going be the hero.
“I wanted the game to be decided in 120 minutes. I scored and became the hero and we have made the final for New Year’s Day.
I am in good form and the team is in good form. I’ve said it before but I want this to be my tournament and I will give it my best shot in the final.”
Gamba whipped J. League champions Sanfreece Hiroshima 3-0 behind a brace from resurgent Takashi Usami in the other semi to avenge their defeat in this season’s two-leg J. League Championship Final. Friday’s game will be a rematch of the 2006 final won 1-0 by Urawa, which will be out for some payback after losing to Gamba in the Championship semifinal this season.
With Ajinomoto Stadium bathed in glorious winter sunshine, Urawa made a bright start and Yuki Muto forced a fine reaction save from Kashiwa goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno with less than three minutes gone, connecting with a cross from the lively Takahiro Sekine at the near post.
Kashiwa’s dead-ball specialist Cristiano, who scored a hat trick of free kicks before Reysol beat Vegalta Sendai 5-3 on penalties after a 3-3 draw in the quarterfinals on Saturday, had a free kick deflected just over the bar midway through the first half, before fellow Brazilian Eduardo headed wide.
Sekine continued to cause Kashiwa all kinds of problems with his trickery on the right flank and his great work set up Muto, only for the striker to blaze his effort over the crossbar.
Another chance went begging for Urawa when Daisuke Nasu put his shot into the side netting early in the second period, and Tsukasa Umesaki could then only direct his shot at Sugeno under pressure from Eduardo in the 65th minute.
Urawa striker Zlatan Ljubijankic saw a pair of headers go over the bar but Lee, who came on at the start of the first extra period for Tomoya Ugajin, snatched victory when he headed in a cross from the left wing from Umesaki.
“This is the time of year when players start thinking about their holidays and as a coach it is not easy to get the players tense and focused for competitive soccer again,” said Urawa coach Mihailo Petrovic, who steered the team to the first-stage title this season.
“As in a lot of games this season, our opponents sat back and waited for us to make mistakes and counter. But we were very patient and I could see that the players were confident that they would win if they maintained that patience.”
The match turned out to be the last for departing Kashiwa manager Tatsuma Yoshida, who will take over the helm at Albirex Niigata next season.
“Once we conceded in the 117th minute the game was 99 percent decided,” said Yoshida. “It is really disappointing that we will not be playing in the final on New Year’s Day and that we have missed the chance for a place in the Asian Champions League next season.
“But I want to thank our fans for all the support they have given me.”