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 Bandarq Online Terbaik 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.
Whilst at Al Nasr, I found out about a football exhibition taking place in Abu Dhabi – “Footie.” It would be a get together of all corners of the football world, with competitions, freestyle shows, auctions and……. lots more beside. What’s more it would be the first even of its kind in the Middle East.
Michael was considering having his club represented at the event, but worries over whether their display would be the best meant that they decided not to bother. It was interesting to see the mentality behind the decision. The Emiratis clearly were interested in doing this only if they were going to be the best.
Their decision was probably the right one as I was possibly the only visitor paying that day. Bernard Lama was the only one of a host of football stars who were due to attend. Lauren Robert was due to make an appearance but was apparently last seen shopping in Dubai.
Heading to the stadium for the first quarter final light rain started to fall.
The crowd for the game between Pohang Steelers and Mazembe cowered under whatever shelter they could find as the rain grew heavier during the match. The roof (remember what there is of it) was put to good effect as the evening’s entertainment was provided by the Mazembe supporters in the main stand, the brass band and dancer were regularly displayed on the large screen and their presence gave the match a better atmosphere. Song 2 was blasted out as goals were scored. It was noticeable that this didn’t happen at the first game. was this because the wrong team scored?
Pohang won but wasted numerous good chances whilst Mazembe failed to mark Denilson, the one player they knew who would cause them problems.
The next day saw the action switch to Zayed Sports City, a larger stadium further out of town. Free buses have been laid on to take fans from the centre of Abu Dhabi to the stadiums. I commandeered one from the Abu Dhabi mall and had it to myself until we were virtually at the venue. There was certainly enough buses to cope with a 50,000 crowd. Obviously no one told them how many tickets had been sold. The crowd was a mere 7,000, and once again the entertainment was provided by the Mazembe supporters who, given the top tier to themselves, kept the noise going all game.
Atlante dominated possession and it was no surprise when they scored. Auckland did create a couple of good chances on the break but Atante were too strong for them. Auckland’s reward – they get to play Mazembe for the 5th place in the tournament.