Kaoru Mitoma did what he does best on Friday’s Emperor’s Cup final – guide Kawasaki Frontale to victory. The 2020 J.League 1 champions completed the domestic double after winning the 2020 Emperor’s Cup final, beating Gamba Osaka 1-0 at Tokyo’s National Stadium. A single Mitoma goal was enough for Kawasaki to clinch their second silverware of 2020, capping off a very dominant and successful season for the side from Kanagawa Prefecture in a year affected badly by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic meant that both Kawasaki and Gamba were the only J1 sides qualified for this year’s Emperor’s Cup, with the duo playing in Japan’s premier cup competition thanks to their league positions. Entering the cup in the semifinals, the two predictably saw off lower league competition to advance to the final, held on New Year’s Day at the National Stadium. 2020 J.League 3 champions Blaublitz Akita were dispatched by Kawasaki, while Gamba made short work of 2020 J.League 2 champions Tokushima Vortis in the other semifinal.
The last time Kawasaki and Gamba met, the former gave the latter a 5-0 pasting that ensured Kawasaki’s third J1 title in four years. Thus the Emperor’s Cup final gave Tsuneyasu Miyamoto’s Gamba with a perfect chance of not only clinching silverware, but also exacting revenge for that humiliation at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium in late November.
The first half proved to be a cagey encounter, unlike the one way traffic that Gamba suffered through back in November. Patric, Gamba’s Brazilian striker, even opened the scoreline as early as the 6th minute after he had slammed a Takashi Usami free-kick past Kawasaki goalie Jung Sung-ryong, however the referee had deemed Patric to be in an offside position during the goal’s buildup, rendering the goal null and void.
With a limited attendance of 13,318 present in the National Stadium stands – the J.League preventing an even larger crowd due to the rise of new COVID-19 cases within Tokyo – Mitoma worked his magic on the pitch, testing the Gamba defense a number of times before finally finding the breakthrough in the 55th minute, smashing home a clever shot that went past Gamba’s veteran goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi.
Mitoma’s goal spurn Gamba into action and the men from Suita kept piling on the pressure as they seek for an equalizer. Jung was called into action several times during the closing stages of the match, pulling off a string of saves that preserved Kawasaki’s clean sheet and prevented extra-time. The game was so tightly contested, Kawasaki decided to forego the option of giving retiring Kengo Nakamura a send-off at the National Stadium in favor of introducing Yasuto Wakizaka as their final substitute, in an effort to reinforce Kawasaki’s defense from the onslaught of Gamba’s attacks. In the end, the decision to abandon a sentimental substitution in favor of a more tactical one paid dividends as Kawasaki survived the onslaught and retained their 1-0 lead into full-time, earning them their first ever Emperor’s Cup title in the process.
Having won three out of the last four J1 editions and with this year’s Emperor’s Cup title in the bag, Kawasaki are set to establish a footballing dynasty of their own, with this season’s domestic double solidifying their claim as being the best team in Japan right now. Kawasaki’s next challenge after dominating the domestic scene is to bring that ruthlessly consistent performance into the continental stage, while at the same time safeguarding the likes of Mitoma from the European elite who are surely standing up and taking notice of his excellent performances week in week out.
Both Kawasaki and Gamba are set to clash once again on February 20th, this time at Urawa Red Diamonds’ Saitama Stadium 2002 for the 2021 Japanese Super Cup. But before that the 2020 Japanese football season will officially come to a close on January 4th with the 2020 J.League Cup final between FC Tokyo and Kashiwa Reysol at the National Stadium, with the final being postponed since early November due to Kashiwa’s brush with COVID-19.