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Previewing The 2016 Emperor’s Cup Quarterfinals

CHOFU, JAPAN - JANUARY 01: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Patric of Gamba Osaka celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the 95th Emperor's Cup final between Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka at Ajinomoto Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kaz Photography/Getty Images)

While the 2016 Meiji Yasuda J1 League, J2 League and J3 League are in the books, the Emperor’s Cup is still going on and we have hit the quarterfinals of Japan’s premier association football cup competition. The home stretch of the competition begins with the quarterfinals, after a field of 88 has been whittled down to eight. With the exception of one relegated, all of the remaining participants will compete in the first division next year.

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The first of four quarterfinals will pit Erick Mombaerts’s Yokohama F. Marinos against Kenta Hasegawa’s Gamba Osaka at the International Stadium, days after the conclusion of the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup Final. Yokohama, who ended their league campaign with a record of 13-12-9 (51 points), started their cup campaign on Sept. 7 with a 2-0 extra time win over Fukushima United at the Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium on goals from Kosuke Nakamachi (107′) and Kayke Rodrigues (115′) in the second round.

Round 3 saw Yokohama rout Tokyo Verdy 4-0 at the Kochi Haruna Athletic Stadium on Sept. 22. Shunsuke Nakamura (18′), Nakamachi (26′) and Kayke on a brace (45′ + 1′, 88′) sent the J2 League side packing. In the Round of 16 at the International Stadium on Nov. 12, a goals from Jun Amano in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time gave the Marinos a 1-0 shutout win over Albirex Niigata.

As a participant in the AFC Champions League, Gamba Osaka, the defending holders, were given a buy to the Round of 16, where they faced Shimizu S-Pulse. At the Suita City Football Stadium on Nov. 9, Gamba shut out Shimizu 1-0 on a 112nd minute extra time goal from Shun Nagasawa. Gamba finished the season with an overall record of 17-7-10 (58 points) and will need to defend their Emperor’s Cup to return to the AFC Champions League. We have them taking the first step doing so.

Prediction: Gamba Osaka 2, Yokohama F. Marinos 1

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If Gamba prevails, there is a chance that they are facing Masatada Ishii’s Kashima Antlers, the current, defending J1 League champions who will be seeing out the FIFA Club World Cup on the last day, playing in the final, even. An Emperor’s Cup win by Kashima will send Gamba Osaka to the playoff round of the ACL. The Antlers host Hajime Moriyasu’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Kashima Soccer Stadium in the second of four quarterfinal matchups.

Kashima started their journey in the second round against Kataller Toyama at their home venue on Sept. 3 routing them 3-0 on goals from Shuhei Akasaki (35′), Gaku Shibasaki (39′) and Yuma Suzuki (59′). The Antlers hosted Fagiano Okayama in the third round on Sept. 22 and prevailed 2-1 on an 80th minute equalizer by Ryota Nagaki (60′) followed by an own goal in the 88th minute of play. Over at the Misaki Park Stadium on Nov., 12, Kashima replicated their score over Vissel Kobe, 2-1, on a brace from Fabricio in the 31st and 55th minutes to prevail in the Round of 16.

As with Gamba Osaka, Sanfrecce, who ended their J1 League season with a 16-7-11 record (55 points), began their cup run in the Round of 16 with a 3-0 shutout win over Sagan Tosu at the Tosu Stadium on Nov. 12. Kosei Shibasaki (18′), Peter Utaka (26′) and Anderson Lopes (53′) powered Sanfrecce to an emphatic victory but they will have all to do against a Kashima side that will be battle-hardened from their FIFA Club World Cup experience.

Prediction: Kashima Antlers 3, Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2

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At the NACK5 Stadium in Omiya, Hiroki Shibuya’s Omiya Ardija will come into their quarterfinal match as heavy favorites after finishing the season with a 15-11-8 record (56 points). Even more so, all of the club’s Emperor’s Cup matches have been home ties at the same venue. However, the story of Wigan Athletic’s 2012-13 FA Cup run will no doubt galvanize Cho Kwi-jea’s Shonan Bellmare to pull off a shock result on the road and write a similar storyline. Shonan finished the 2016 J1 League season with a record of 7-6-21 (27 points) and could spend next year playing in the AFC Champions League and the Japanese second division at the same time, a rarity for sure but very much possible under the current system.

Omiya began their cup run on Sept. 7 in the second round against Gainare Tottori at home. A 51st minute goal from Nejc Pecnik gave the Squirrels a 1-0 victory. In the third round, Omiya Ardija faced Jubilo Iwata on Sept. 22, also at home. A brace from Jin Izumisawa (26′, 40′) to go with goals from Pecnik (57′), Mateus (58′) and Keisuke Oyama (68′) drove the hosts to a 5-0 thumping of Iwata. In the Round of 16, they hosted Yokohama FC on Nov., 9 and posted another 1-0 shutout win with Akihiro Ienaga scoring an 89th minute match winner.

As for the Cinderella of the tournament, Shonan started their cup campaign on Sept. 3 at the Shonan Stadium Hiratsuka with a 6-0 belting of the Yamanashi Gakuin University Orions. A hat trick from Hokuto Shimoda (1′, 8′, 72′), a brace from Weslley (82′, 86′) and some 12th minute insurance from Dinei were more than enough to see Bellmare though. They hosted Tokushima Vortis on Sept. 22 and delivered a 4-0 smashing. A brace from Naoki Yamada (25′, 61′) to go with goals from Yoshihito Fujita (6′) and Mitsuki Saito (50′) delivered for the hosts.

In the Round of 16, Shonan were on the road to take on Kashiwa Reysol at the Kashiwa Soccer Stadium. Down a goal on 25 miunutes, Shonan Bellmare rallied back with goals from Dinei (52′), Kaoru Takayama (68′) and Shuhei Otsuki for a 3-1 come-from-behind victory. The buck will stop here for Shonan, if form is to be believed. Omiya have never lost an Emperor’s Cup game they have hosted this year and on Christmas Eve, that streak is going to continue.

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Prediction: Omiya Ardija 4, Shonan Bellmare 2

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At the Ajinomoto Stadium, Yahiro Kazama’s Kawasaki Frontale are big favorites to get the job done against Yoshiyuki Shinoda’s FC Tokyo. Regardless of what happens, Frontale will be in the AFC Champions League but an Emperor’s Cup victory will send them to the group stage rather than the playoff round against Thailand’s Bangkok United or Johor Darul Ta’zim of Malaysia. Kawasaki ended 2016 with a record of 22-6-6 (72 points) while FC Tokyo pulled their way to safety with a record of 15-7-12 (52 points) after a poor start to the season that saw Hiroshi Jofuku canned.

Tokyo’s lone cup game, as an AFC Champions League participant, came on Nov. 9 against unheralded Honda FC. Down a goal in the second half, Tokyo were able to turn the tide with goals from Shoya Nakajima (51′) and Sei Muroya (80′) for a 2-1 win. Kawasaki began their run on Sept. 3 against Blaublitz Akita at the Todoroki Stadium to the tune of 3-1. Frontale were forced to come from behind to prevail on goals from Eduardo (67′), Yoshito Okubo (77′) and Yusuke Tasaka (82′).

In the third round, on Sept. 22 at Todoroki, Kawasaki smashed JEF United Chiba 4-1 in extra time following a 1-1 draw in regulation. Okubo scored a brace in the 108th and 115th minutes following goals from Takayuki Morimoto (20′) and Shintaro Kurumaya (105′). In the Round of 16, a stern test awaited Frontale at home to Urawa Red Diamonds on Nov. 12.

With elimination staring at them in the face late, Okubo equalized on 86 minutes. After an own goal on 88 minutes, a couple more equalizers came from Morimoto (90′ + 1′) and Eduardo (117′) to force penalties. Kawasaki could do no wrong, running away with it 4-1 on penalties to prevail. It’s on these grounds that we have Kawasaki taking one more bold step, against their local rivals, in a classic affair on Christmas Eve. Tokyo Gas is coming to town, but Frontale will be there to shut them down.

Kawasaki Frontale 3, FC Tokyo 2

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