The Emperor’s Cup is Japan’s premier national cup competition and we have finally reached the semifinals of the 96th edition of the tournament. Four teams have made it through, all Meiji Yasuda J1 League teams that will be competing in the top flight next season. The semifinals will be held on December 29 at the Yanmar Stadium Nagai in Osaka and the International Stadium, Yokohama. Masatada Ishii’s Kashima Antlers, the darlings of the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup, picked up right where they left off in taking down Hajime Moriyasu’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 at the Kashima Soccer Stadium on a 57th minute goal from Shuhei Akasaki.
“We did well at the Club World Cup and we wanted to keep that going,” Akasaki said. “We grew up a level or two as a team at the Club World Cup and we want to go all the way and win the (Emperor’s Cup) title on New Year’s Day. The mood in the team is great and I want to contribute by scoring.”
Kashima’s opponent will be Erick Mombaerts’s Yokohama F. Marinos, who come into the semifinals having dethroned Kenta Hasegawa’s Gamba Osaka, 2-1, at the Yokohama International Stadium. Manabu Saito opened up the scoring in the 63rd minute. Yasuyuki Konno leveled the scores in the 87th minute and all signs pointed to extra time…until Jun Amano delivered a showstopping goal in the sixth minute of second half stoppage time. Yokohama’s semifinal will take place in Osaka.
Prediction: Yokohama F. Marinos 2, Kashima Antlers 1
On the other side of the bracket, Hiroki Shibuya’s Omiya Ardija are a confident side that could deliver a surprise or two after sending Cho Kwi-jea’s Shonan Bellmare on their way to the J2 League 4-2 at the NACK5 Stadium. Jin Izumisawa opened up the scoring in the 32nd minute of play before Shunsuke Kikuchi leveled proceedings in the 70th minute. This match did go to extra time and after Yoshihito Fujita put Shonan ahead 2-1, Kosuke Kikuchi scored a massive brace in the 111th and 118th minutes for Omiya with Tsubasa Oya slamming the door shut in the 120th minute.
At the Ajinomoto Stadium, Yahiro Kazama’s Kawasaki Frontale defeated Yoshiyuki Shinoda’s FC Tokyo 2-1 and will come into the contest as heavy favorites to advance based on in-season form. Yoshito Okubo (20′) and Elsinho (28′) put Kawasaki ahead early and despite Sota Hirayama’s heroics in the first minute of second half stoppage time, Kawasaki were able to escape with a massive win that keep them on track.
Prediction: Kawasaki Frontale 3, Omiya Ardija 1
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