KASHIMA, IBARAKI PREFECTURE - Urawa Reds beat recent Asian Champions League winners and bitter rivals Kashima Antlers 1-0 in their Emperor’s Cup semifinal on Wednesday to set up a meeting with Vegalta Sendai in the final.
Urawa, looking for a seventh Emperor’s Cup title on Sunday, advanced to their first final in the competition since 2015. On that occasion, they lost 2-1 against Gamba Osaka.
The winner of the Emperor’s Cup, Japan’s oldest soccer tournament, automatically qualifies for the 2019 Asian Champions League group stage.
With both teams exhibiting stout defense early, Mauricio Antonio netted in the 27th minute at Kashima Stadium. The Brazilian defender headed the goal, directing the ball just out of the reach of South Korean ‘keeper Kwoun Sun-tae.
Urawa kept up the pressure and set up several good chances, but failed to convert as Kwoun helped Kashima preserve a one-goal deficit with several skillful saves.
Kashima’s attack, led by Brazilian forward Serginho, searched desperately for an equalizer before the break but was unable to convert.
In the middle of the second half, Kashima forward Yuma Suzuki delivered a well-struck cross into the box, but substitute Koki Anzai sprayed his header wide.
Suzuki found Serginho in the box in injury time and the Brazilian controlled well and got a shot off, but Reds ‘keeper Shusaku Nishikawa proved up to the task, snuffing out Kashima’s final effort.
Despite the loss, Kashima, which was hoping to reach the final for the first time since claiming a league-cup double in 2016, still has a chance to qualify for next year’s AFC Champions League. The Antlers’ third-place finish on the J. League table earned the team a place in a four-team qualifying playoff for the continent’s top club competition.
In Wednesday’s other semifinal, Vegalta Sendai emerged from a wild five-goal first half as 3-2 victors over J. League second-division side Montedio Yamagata.
Ryo Germain and Shinya Yajima netted early to put Sendai up 2-0, but Toyofumi Sakano scored his first goal in the 32nd at Yurtec Stadium to halve the deficit.
Vegalta defender Yasuhiro Hiraoka struck back four minutes later, but Sakano scored a second to pull a goal back right before the break.
The first-division side, which finished 11th in the league this season, maintained its superiority in the second half to secure its first chance at an Emperor’s Cup title.
Montedio, who were looking to make their first Emperor’s Cup final since finishing runner-up in 2014, finished 12th in the J. League second division this season, but upset back-to-back first-division champions Kawasaki Frontale in the quarterfinals.
The Emperor’s Cup final at Saitama Stadium was originally scheduled for Dec. 24, but was moved up to accommodate Kashima’s FIFA Club World Cup opener on Dec. 15 against Mexican first-division side Guadalajara.