There were no shocks on Sunday’s Emperor’s Cup semifinal action as favorites Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka breezed through lower-league opposition to set up an exciting final clash at Tokyo’s National Stadium. 2020 J.League 1 champions Kawasaki Frontale took out 2020 J.League 3 champions Blaublitz Akita 2-0 at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, and while 2020 J1 runners-up Gamba triumphed over 2020 J.League 2 champions Tokushima Vortis with the same scoreline at the Panasonic Stadium Suita, they were made to work very hard to earn their win as Tokushima proved themselves to be a very tough nut to crack.
With a potential double in sight, Kawasaki head coach Toru Oniki fielded his big guns as third tier champions Blaublitz pay the Todoroki a visit. The likes of Jung Sung-ryong, Miki Yamane, Jesiel, Shogo Taniguchi, Akihiro Ienaga, Ao Tanaka, Kaoru Mitoma, Reo Hatate and Leandro Damiao took the field as Kawasaki refused to underestimate Blaublitz despite the gulf in class between them.
That gulf of class was quite apparent on the field as Kawasaki easily dominated Blaublitz in every aspect, however to credit the men from Akita Prefecture, they put out a brave performance against the ruthless J1 champions as they made Kawasaki sweat with their stout defending and counterattacks. It took the hosts 39 minutes to break Blaublitz open and it was once again that man Mitoma who gave Kawasaki the lead. Collecting a diagonal pass from Ryota Oshima after making his way through the left flank, Mitoma smashed home a powerful shot that went through a crowded Blaublitz penalty area, past the away side’s custodian Yudai Tanaka, and into the right side of the goal.
Blaublitz nearly leveled the scoreline early in the second half after Jung was called into action to deny Naoki Inoue’s shot, before Kawasaki put the game beyond any doubt in the 83rd minute. With Oshima once again contributing to his team by winning a free-kick just outside the area, Tanaka made no waste of the set-piece given to him by curling the free-kick over the Blaublitz wall and into the top right corner of the goal.
At the Panasonic Stadium Suita, J1 silver medalists Gamba faced a tougher challenge as second tier champions Tokushima rolled into town. As one of the 11 J2 clubs granted an AFC license, Tokushima could potentially earn themselves an appearance in the 2021 AFC Champions League by winning this year’s Emperor’s Cup and the men from Shikoku are looking to send their Urawa Red Diamonds-bound head coach Ricardo Rodriguez off on a high. With that in mind Tokushima put out a spirited performance at the Panasonic, dominating possession and forcing Gamba to sit back and soak up the pressure thrown at them.
However, in the end Gamba showed their quality and grabbed the lead in the 53rd minute. Kosuke Onose crossed the ball into the box, which was welcomed by a shot from Shu Kurata. Tokushima goalkeeper Naoto Kamifukumoto was unable to save Kurata’s shot properly, allowing Brazilian striker Patric to pounce on the spilled ball and poke home Gamba’s opener.
Substitute Yuya Fukuda then assured Gamba’s passage to the final in the 82nd minute, taking advantage of a breakaway seconds after coming on to end Tokushima’s brave resistance.
With both Kawasaki and Gamba facing off in January 1st’s final at the National Stadium, J1 third placers Nagoya Grampus are assured of a ticket to the 2021 AFC Champions League group stages with the slot reserved for the Emperor’s Cup winners, as both Kawasaki and Gamba had qualified for continental competitions through their league positions. Consequentially, Japan’s slot in the 2021 AFC Champions League play-offs was given to fourth placed Cerezo Osaka, with the men in pink making their return to continental action for the first time since 2018.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the format of the 2020 Emperor’s Cup has been significantly altered, with most of its competitors being amateur teams. The last two amateur teams standing – Honda FC of Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture and Fukuyama City of Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture – were then pitted against the 2020 J3 champions Blaublitz and the 2020 J2 champions Tokushima respectively in the quarterfinal, which the amateurs lost, allowing the two lower tier champions to take on Kawasaki and Gamba, the only J1 sides qualified to the tournament as league champions and runners-up respectively, in the semifinal.