On a day where the Japanese government elections and the opening of the ski season took precedence on news channels, football fans flocked to Yokohama Stadium on a sunny winter Saturday to watch Gamba Osaka topple J1-promotees Montedio Yamagata in the final of the Emperor’s Cup.
The 3-1 win marked Gamba’s third domestic title in their first season back in the top flight, having also lifted the Nabisco Cup and completed a remarkable run to the J-League championship.
Gamba sent their sea of blue and black supporters into rapture just moments into the game, when Montedio goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi spilled Takashi Usami’s shot back into his path, with the flying winger making no mistake on his second attempt.
While Montedio began to gain momentum and pressure Gamba’s backline, it was Usami who had a chance to double his tally in the 18th minute when he was found at the end of a counter attack, but his shot curled narrowly wide of the far post. Usami made amends five minutes later when he won the ball and launched the ball towards Patric inside the box, who recovered from a poor first touch to send the ball flying beyond Yamagishi’s reach and into the corner of the net for the J-League champions’ second.
Yamagishi saved Montedio from conceding a third seconds before halftime, getting his foot the ball from Gamba’s corner set piece.
The second half began in a similarly nerve-racking fashion as the first ended, with Patric shooting wide from a one-on-one opportunity. Montedio persisted with their game plan and continued to push Gamba into their own half, with Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s men finding a glimmer of light when a cross fell to the feet of Romero Frank – the first Peruvian to plan in an Emperor’s Cup final – who poked the ball into the net in the 62nd minute.
The goal gave Montedio a second wind as both Masaki Miyasaka and Diego Souza came close to an equaliser moments later, putting the quick reflexes of national team contender Masaaki Higashiguchi to the test.
Unable to find the net again, Montedio were set back with just ten minutes remaining, when an injury to defender Tatsuya Ishikawa forced the side to play a man down having used all of their available substitutions. Gamba were able to capitalise on the extra man advantage and push Montedio into their own half, with the dominance paying off when Usami’s shot deflected off a defender to loop over Yamagishi’s head and into the net.
With five minutes remaining in the half, Gamba maintained full control of the match and the majority of possession until the final whistle, confident in knowing they would lift their first Emperor’s Cup title in five years and fourth overall.
The result also settled the placement of Japan’s AFC Champions League representatives, with Urawa Reds joining Brisbane Roar and Suwon Bluewings in Group G while Kashima Antlers will face former champions Guangzhou Evergrande and current holders Western Sydney Wanderers in Group H.
J-League fourth place side Kashiwa Reysol’s will enter the competition through the third round of the playoffs; should they win they will be placed in Group E.
In addition, Gamba’s treble means that they will face J-League runners up Reds in the 2015 Xerox Supercup next February.