Soccer / J. League

Akasaki lifts Antlers past Sanfrecce, into Emperor's Cup semifinals


Shuhei Akasaki hit the winner as the Kashima Antlers defeated Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 to advance to the semifinals of the Emperor’s Cup on Saturday.

Akasaki struck with a clever finish in the 57th minute and goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata, one of the stars of Kashima’s magical run to last week’s Club World Cup final, saved a penalty soon after to help keep Kashima on course for a league and cup double.

Kashima will face the Yokohama F. Marinos in the semis at Osaka’s Yanmar Stadium on Thursday. Jun Amano scored in the sixth minute of second-half injury time as Yokohama overcame defending champions Gamba Osaka 2-1 at Nissan Stadium.

“We did well at the Club World Cup and we wanted to keep that going,” Akasaki said.

“We grew up a level or two as a team at the Club World Cup and we want to go all the way and win the (Emperor’s Cup) title on New Year’s Day. The mood in the team is great and I want to contribute by scoring.”

Kashima manager Masatada Ishii fielded eight players that had started against Real Madrid in the 4-2 extra-time defeat in Sunday’s final.

Gaku Shibasaki, who scored both Kashima’s goals against Real, and Mu Kanazaki were not in the squad due to illness, while Daigo Nishi missed out through injury.

Kashima had the first chance to take the lead after 11 minutes, but Yasushi Endo fired over from the edge of the box after taking a short pass from Shuto Yamamoto.

Kosei Shibasaki missed an even better opportunity for Hiroshima moments later, blazing off target after being put clean through courtesy of a fine pass from Tsukasa Shiotani.

Ryota Nagaki went close with a free kick that fizzed just over the bar, but Kashima finally broke the deadlock 12 minutes into the second half, when Akasaki pounced on Mitsuo Ogasawara’s ball in the box and beat Hiroshima goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi from the tightest of angles.

“Mitsuo-san put in a good ball and I think it was for Atsu-kun (Atsutaka Nakamura) but he pulled the defenders away and I was able to get a good connection on the ball,” said Akasaki.

“I missed a shot after a great assist in the first half from Yatto (Endo) and wanted to put the next one away.”

Hayashi did well to save twice from Endo, only for Hiroshima to squander a glorious chance to equalize in the 63rd minute. Referee Nobutsugu Murakami pointed to the spot after Gen Shoji brought down Yoshifumi Kashiwa, but Sogahata guessed correctly, diving to his right to push away Anderson Lopes’ effort.

“I didn’t protest the penalty decision and accepted the yellow card. But I never for one minute though the penalty would go in and was not panicked at all,” said Shoji. “I am thankful Soga-san saved it. None us thought the ball would go in.”

Sogahata joked, “There was a lot going through my mind. … I don’t think there is any need for me to reveal what that was though.”

Kashima’s runner-up finish at the Club World Cup helped pull in a crowd of over 18,000, 8,000 more than the club expected.

“There were more than 18,000 fans here today, despite it only being the Emperor’s Cup. The more fans that come to watch the players the more motivated they are and I am grateful for that,” Ishii said.

“We have had a tight schedule with the Club World Cup but we never let them (Hiroshima) break us down in the first half and were patient. It was tough in the second half, but we had more of the ball in our opponent’s territory. We had 10 shots in the second half compared to two in the first and that showed how much we wanted to score.”

Hiroshima manager Hajime Moriyasu could not fault his players’ efforts.

“The players gave it everything they had today. We wanted to win the title and came here today looking to beat Kashima Antlers,” he said.

“The team put in a performance worth of victory but we just could not get the right result.”

The game was the last in a Hiroshima shirt for veteran striker Hisato Sato, who is moving to relegated Nagoya Grampus. The 34-year-old came off the bench for the last 11 minutes, but midfielder Koji Morisaki, who is hanging up his boots, did not get any game time.

“The fans have been with me through thick and thin and have been a special presence,” said Sato. “I didn’t think I would cry when I went over to salute them but the tears came naturally.”

Sato who has been with Sanfrecce since 2005, reached double figure goals in each of the past seven seasons and steered Hiroshima to J1 titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015. But he netted only four times in the league this year, when he started eight of his 19 games.

Yoshito Okubo was on target against the team he will join next season as Kawasaki Frontale won 2-1 away to FC Tokyo to book a spot in the other semifinal.

Frontale will face Omiya Ardija, who came from 2-1 down at home in extra time to see off Shonan Bellmare 4-2, Tsubasa Oya hitting the decider in the last minute of the second extra period.