Friday, January 2, 2009

Gamba Osaka crowned Emperor's Cup champions

Gamba Osaka crowned Emperor's Cup champions.
Their campaign could hardly have been more exhausting, but Gamba Osaka are the Emperor's Cup champions after beating underdogs Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 in front of 44,066 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Gamba started the season by lifting the exhibition Pan-Pacific Championship in Hawaii last February.

Since then the Osakans have taken part in the J. League, the League Cup, the inaugural Suruga Bank Championship held in Osaka, the AFC Champions League - which Gamba won, the FIFA Club World Cup and, of course, the Emperor's Cup.

As if Gamba's gruelling campaign wasn't enough, the Osakans needed extra-time to beat Kashiwa Reysol in the final, just as they required extra-time to see off Yokohama F. Marinos in the semi-final three days earlier.

Ryuji Bando was the hero for the Kansai side, coming off the bench to score a dramatic 117th minute winner, with Bando keeping his cool to slot home after his initial strike was blocked.

The victory assures Gamba a place in next season's AFC Champions League - which Gamba would otherwise have missed out on - despite the fact that they are the defending champions.

After the game coach Akira Nishino told reporters, "we had a strong desire to win this tournament and qualify for the Asian Champions League."

"As the Asian champions, we couldn't afford to miss out on the next tournament."

Gamba will join Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus as the Japanese representatives in next season's revamped AFC Champions League.

Both Gamba and Kashiwa Reysol will take a well-earned rest following a long campaign, with Reysol's losing coach Nobuhiro Ishizaki moving north to take over at recently relegated J2 outfit Consadole Sapporo.

The new Japanese season gets under way in March, with the season-opening Super Cup between Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka set to kick off proceedings at the National Stadium on February 28.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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