Football Tribe SEA Editor
Vissel Kobe have won the 2019 edition of the Emperor’s Cup after beating Kashima Antlers 2-0 at the newly reconstructed National Stadium yesterday. The title was Vissel’s first ever silverware in their history, being won in their first appearance in a final of a major tournament no less. With the Emperor’s Cup triumph, Vissel’s star-studded squad, which includes FC Barcelona’s legendary maestro Andres Iniesta, will feature in the group stages of the 2020 AFC Champions League.
Wearing their uniquely designed 2020 home jersey which feature crimson-and-white diamond patterns, Vissel had their three international superstars in Iniesta, Thomas Vermaelen, and Lukas Podolski in the starting lineup since kick-off. Their other superstar, David Villa, was on the bench, with the final against Kashima being the legendary Spanish striker’s last ever match as a professional footballer before his retirement. Vissel’s Japanese stars are also present in the starting lineup, with Daigo Nishi and Gotoku Sakai marshaling the defense, Hotaru Yamaguchi in the midfield, and both Kyogo Furuhashi and Noriaki Fujimoto working together in the attacking positions.
With Iniesta pulling the strings from the midfield engine room, Vissel took control of the game right from the get-go. Despite being the favorites considering their higher league position, Kashima were lethargic throughout the match, which allowed Vissel to dictate the game for them. Unable to withstand such pressure from Vissel, the Kashima defense eventually gave way in the 18th minute. Sakai made a surging run down the left side of the pitch, earning himself a challenge from the Kashima defense. Podolski was at hand to retain Vissel’s possession, before performing a shot from a tight angle towards the Kashima goal. Kashima goalie Kwon Sun-tae managed to parry the ball away only for it to deflect off the shin of Kashima defender Tomoya Inukai into the surprised Kwon’s net. Fujimoto, whom Inukai was marking at the moment, was initially credited to the goal, however it was quickly amended as an Inukai own goal later on.
The 28th minute of the match saw Podolski scoring what supposedly is Vissel’s second of the match, only for the linesman to chalk the goal off for offside.
However, in the 38th minute, Vissel got themselves that second goal that they’ve been looking for. Fujimoto, who had worked his way up the Japanese football pyramid with impressive spells at both Kagoshima United and Oita Trinita prior to his move to Vissel midway through the 2019 season, was once again the center of attention for Vissel’s second goal, which was scored in a similarly bizarre fashion. Nishi led the counterattack for Vissel, sending the ball towards the penalty box. Inukai attempted to clear the ball away from danger, but his mishit clearance ended up hitting the boots of an inattentive Fujimoto, who inadvertently slotted home Vissel’s second past Kwon.
Despite taking the two-goal lead in an admittedly bizarre fashion, Vissel were in the end worthy winners of the 2019 Emperor’s Cup. They did well to defend their lead, staving off a late fightback from the 5-time Emperor’s Cup champions after Go Oiwa had instructed his Kashima players to up the ante in the second half. Vissel even had the luxury of taking off Podolski for Villa in injury time, giving the retiring legend a brief swansong on the National Stadium pitch. And as the referee blows his whistle for full time, the curtains came down on Villa’s illustrious career, which ended in a way a player of Villa’s caliber would’ve done, with one last title.
The 2019 Emperor’s Cup triumph also serves as an excellent vindication for the heavy investments done by Vissel’s chairman, Hiroshi Mikitani, and his e-commerce behemoth Rakuten. Vissel’s strong financial muscle has saw a number of quality players coming through the Misaki Park Stadium doors, however prior to the 2019 Emperor’s Cup, they had underperformed massively in both league and cup competitions. Vissel even performed disappointingly in the league this season, finishing 8th in the 2019 J.League 1 table. But with the Emperor’s Cup trophy in the bag and an Asian campaign to look forward to in 2020, Vissel have finally got themselves that platform to build on for future successes, a momentum that’ll push them towards the ambitions set to them by both Mikitani and Rakuten – to be the best team in Asia. A first of many titles and the birth of a new dominant force in Japanese football? Only time will tell.
Congratulations on your Emperor’s Cup win, Vissel Kobe!