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Reds capture J. League Cup

by Andrew McKirdy

Staff Writer

Urawa Reds claimed their first trophy since 2007 after beating Gamba Osaka 5-4 on penalties to lift the J. League Cup following a 1-1 draw in Saturday’s final.

Brazilian striker Ademilson staked Gamba to a 17th-minute lead at Saitama Stadium after dribbling more than half the length of the pitch, before Urawa substitute Tadanari Lee equalized with his first touch after coming on in the 76th minute.

Neither side could be separated as the match moved into extra time and then penalties, but Gamba blinked first when Hiroto Goya missed his team’s fourth spot kick to allow Wataru Endo to dispatch the winning penalty and give Urawa its first silverware since capturing the Asian Champions League title nine years ago.

“People have said that this team has lost a lot of finals and so it doesn’t have the stomach for the battle, and neither do I as a manager,” said Urawa manager Mihailo Petrovic. “There is an element of truth about that and dealing with the pressure is not easy.

“We won the penalty shootout and for that you need a bit of luck. But there have been plenty of games in the past where luck has gone against us, and I think we deserved the victory today.”

Urawa went into the match having lost in the final of two J. League Cups and one Emperor’s Cup since beating Iranian side Sepahan for the ACL in 2007, and falling just short of the J. League title on several occasions.

“This team hasn’t won a title in a long time, and when you think of that frustration it makes this a very happy moment,” said Urawa striker Shinzo Koroki. “There are a lot of players here who have just won their first-ever title and they were in tears after the game. It’s a happy moment, and it’s great to be able to share it with my teammates.”

Gamba were appearing in the final for the third straight year but were unable to add to the titles they won in 2007 and 2014.

“It wouldn’t have been a surprise if either team had won, but it went to penalties and that was the difference in quality between us,” said Gamba midfielder Yasuhito Endo. “We played well and couldn’t get the title, and that’s disappointing. But Urawa really went for it and I think they deserved it.”

Ademilson almost juggled the ball into the Urawa net in the 14th minute, but the warning went unheeded as the Brazilian gave Gamba the lead just three minutes later. Ademilson picked up the ball in his own half and streaked toward the Urawa goal, holding off several defenders before tucking the ball past goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a clinical finish.

“If I could swap that goal for the win, I would,” said Ademilson.

Tomoaki Makino went close to equalizing with a powerful header from a corner minutes later, but Gamba retained their lead until halftime and forced Reds to come out with all guns blazing after the break.

Petrovic brought on Lee in the 76th minute and the substitute — who was later named man of the match — repaid his manager’s faith instantly, rising above Koki Yonekura to head home the equalizer from a corner.

Lee then missed a gilt-edged chance to settle the match in the first half of extra time, but Urawa had Ryota Moriwaki to thank for bailing it out with a clearance off the line after Gamba substitute Goya had hit the post in the final minute of the 120.

The match then moved to a penalty shootout, and Nishikawa saved the 22-year-old Goya’s weak spot kick with his legs to give Reds an advantage that they would not waste, as Endo beat Gamba goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi to start the celebrations.

“People will wonder why I chose Goya to take a penalty, but the fact is that I had other players in mind and they didn’t want to take one,” said Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa. “I could see from Goya’s eyes that he was really keen to take one.

“He missed, but at least he had the courage to take one when other players didn’t fancy it. If Goya keeps improving as a player, he can help us to win titles in the future.”