YOKOHAMA – Shogo Taniguchi grabbed the late winner as Kawasaki Frontale reached their first Emperor’s Cup final after a 1-0 win over Omiya Ardija on Thursday.
Kawasaki will meet the Kashima Antlers in the final on New Year’s Day after the J. League champions beat Yokohama F. Marinos 2-0 in the earlier semifinal. Runner-up in the season’s overall standings, Kawasaki was beaten by first-stage champion Kashima in the league semifinal.
Kawasaki and Ardija both lacked the final touch and the game looked set for the extra time before Taniguchi steered home with four minutes to go, volleying with the outside of the foot after a half-cleared corner was put back into the mix by defender Eduardo Neto.
“From the first half I was feeling chance would come from set-pieces, and it was a massive opportunity with the timing of it as well,” Taniguchi said. “I don’t have much experience of scoring winners myself, and it was pleasing to be able to lead the team (to the final).
“Omiya had a wonderful defense, they were fast in closing down as well as switching between defense and offense. We were sitting a bit too deep at times and lacked aggression, so to get to the break without conceding a goal was huge.”
With both teams vying to reach their first final in the competition, it was Ardija which settled into the game more quickly at Nissan Stadium. It could have gone ahead in the 11th minute when Brazilian Mateus stole the ball on the right wing, but Dragan Mrdja’s shot was denied by a desperate effort from defender Eduardo.
Mateus’ chipped shot from the edge of the box sailed narrowly wide two minutes later for Omiya, while Eduardo Neto should have done better for Kawasaki in the 28th minute when a corner fell to him unmarked at the far post only for the Brazilian to miss his shot.
Kawasaki’s Yoshito Okubo and Ardija’s Ataru Esaka had decent efforts from distance either side of the intermission before Omiya had the first real chance of the game in the 50th minute.
Esaka’s close control and a through ball saw Jin Izumisawa with just ‘keeper Jung Sung-ryong to beat, but his shot from a tight angle hit the foot of the post and Mrdja couldn’t react to the rebound fast enough, blazing wide with the goal at his mercy.
The Serb then saw a one-on-one saved for a corner, while Eduardo Neto’s rasping drive off Okubo’s layoff was tipped over by Omiya ‘keeper Hitoshi Shiota as the game began to open up.
Kawasaki brought on Ryota Oshima to add creativity in midfield and although Okubo wasted his side’s best chance when he blazed over a knockdown off Elsinho inside the area, Taniguchi came to the rescue with the well-taken winner.
“We couldn’t get into our rhythm but we said before the game we’ll all clench our teeth (to reach the final). It was a win that came with our mental strength,” said captain Kengo Nakamura, this season’s J. League MVP.
“It is the first final of the year in Japan on Jan. 1, I always dreamt about it since I was little. I went a long way around to get there but I could achieve this thanks to everyone.”
A defeat would have made it Yahiro Kazama’s last game as Kawasaki manager after nearly five seasons. But the 55-year-old can now leave his first pro managing job with a trophy.
“It was a tough match. Individually, we weren’t good in terms of keeping possession,” said Kazama, who is expected to take over at relegated Nagoya Grampus next season.
“We only have two days to prepare, but we will get ourselves fit and give the best performance possible.”
Omiya, which was promoted back to the J. League top flight this season and finished a team-high fifth in the overall standings, showed it is becoming a force to be reckoned with another solid outing on Thursday.
“It was our first semifinal since 2005 and I was telling my players to let’s go one further, but unfortunately we lost with a late set-piece,” Omiya manager Hiroki Shibuya said.
“We had momentum from promotion this year. We’ve been fighting relegation for the past decade but we’ll aim to stay high up in the league, using this frustration as a catalyst.”
In Osaka, midfielder Gaku Shibasaki set up both goals as Kashima Antlers beat Yokohama F. Marinos 2-0 to reach the final to stay in the hunt for a league and cup double.
Shoma Doi opened the scoring four minutes to the break, leaping to squeeze in a header at the far post beyond desperate Marinos ‘keeper Tetsuya Enomoto after Shibasaki sent in a high cross from the right at Nagai Stadium.
Marinos thought they had the equalizer through Takashi Kanai’s header in the 73rd minute, but the goal was waved off for a borderline offside, and the decision proved crucial as substitute Yuma Suzuki tapped home Shibasaki’s low cross from the right moments later for Kashima’s second.
Yokohama’s former Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura came on with just under half an hour to go, but his quality deliveries couldn’t buy Marinos a goal.