SAITAMA – Perennial underachievers Kawasaki Frontale will be hoping to make it fourth time lucky when they face Cerezo Osaka in the final of the YBC Levain Cup on Saturday.
Frontale have never won a major domestic title and will be looking to break a League Cup jinx, having suffered heartbreak with defeat three times in the final, most recently in 2009.
And Frontale’s talismanic midfielder and reigning J. League Player of the Year Kengo Nakamura, who has just turned 37, is determined to help his side finally end the trophy drought and shed his own tag as a nearly man.
“People mention it (that I am uncrowned) but every time I have fought desperately to win a title,” Nakamura, who has spent his entire professional career with Frontale, said after training Friday at Saitama Stadium. “This is a chance for me to shed that tag.”
Kawasaki has already been knocked out of the Asian Champions League and the Emperor’s Cup, both in the quarterfinal stage. It trails leaders Kashima Antlers in the J. League by four points with three games left, making Saturday’s final most likely its last realistic shot at a title this season.
“The team that shows the strongest determination to win the title will win the game,” Kawasaki captain and striker Yu Kobayashi told a news conference.
Kawasaki manager Toru Oniki was on the Frontale side that lost 2-0 to Kashima Antlers in the 2000 final of the competition, then known as the Nabisco Cup.
“We have been saying since preseason camp that we are aiming for a title this season. We want to make Frontale history,” the former midfielder said.
Frontale midfielder Ryota Oshima is expected to start in what will be his comeback after injuring his left hamstring in a 0-0 draw away to Vissel Kobe in league action on Sept. 23.
Oshima, who was told he would need two months to make a full recovery, said, “My leg is fine. It is just a coincidence that the timing of my comeback is this match. I am thankful that I can play in the final.”
Like Kawasaki, Cerezo are also gunning for their first piece of major silverware.
Cerezo striker Kenyu Sugimoto, who is tied for second place in the first-division scoring charts with Kobayashi, said he is all set for battle.
“I have made the best preparations possible,” said the Japan international. “Obviously I would like to score and for us to win the match but I will just be playing for the sake of the team.”
Cerezo are unbeaten in this season’s League Cup competition from the group stage with seven wins and five draws.
Cerezo manager Yoon Jong-hwan said, “I will send my players onto the pitch with belief in them. If we can play the way we have been preparing, then I am sure we will get a positive result.”
Cerezo beat Frontale 2-0 at home in the league in April, but Frontale hit back with a 5-1 demolition in the corresponding fixture in September.