Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Emperor's Cup consolations for J. League also-rans

Emperor's Cup consolations for J. League also-rans.
When the dust had settled on another gripping J. League title race, many wondered whether anyone could stop Kashima Antlers after they picked up their third straight Japanese crown.

They got an answer - of sorts - after Gamba Osaka dumped the Antlers out of the season-ending Emperor's Cup at the quarter-final stage.

Gamba's belated victory came courtesy of a brace from ex-Oita Trinita striker Masato Yamazaki, who scored either side of a goal from Kashima front man Yuzo Tashiro.

The Osakans march on to a semi-final showdown with promoted side Vegalta Sendai, who shook off any ill-affects from their recent J2 title celebrations to beat a star-studded Kawasaki Frontale.

In front of a packed house of 18,340 fans at Yurtec Stadium in Sendai, the hosts prevailed thanks to a 2-1 extra-time victory.

Yuki Nakashima opened the scoring for the hosts, and Vegalta looked to be cruising to a place in the final four until Kazuhiro Murakami drove home a stoppage-time equaliser.

There was to be no monumental fightback from Frontale, however, as Vegalta striker Tomoyuki Hirase scored a late winner to seal Sendai's place in the semi-finals.

The other semi-final will be contested by Tokai rivals Shimizu S-Pulse and Nagoya Grampus, although both sides experienced contrasting fortunes in their quarter-final matches.

Shimizu required a dramatic extra-time winner from veteran defender Arata Kodama to seal a 3-2 win over a plucky Albirex Niigata, with Kodama's goal coming just a minute from full-time.

Meanwhile, Nagoya cruised past cash-strapped local rivals FC Gifu courtesy of a 3-0 win in front of 12,211 fans at Mizuho Stadium, with Australian international Josh Kennedy scoring a hat-trick.

The win sets up an intriguing final four clash with regional rivals Shimizu S-Pulse on December 29, with Shimizu set to enjoy the lion's share of support as the two sides run out at Ecopa Stadium.

The other semi-final will take place at the National Stadium in Tokyo, as the four remaining Emperor's Cup combatants fight for their place in a New Year's Day showdown.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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