Only a week after their Emperor’s Cup heartbreak, Sanfrecce Hiroshima managed to redeem themselves in the most dramatic way possible after claiming the 2022 J.League Cup title on Saturday. Cypriot international Pietros Sotiriou was the hero for Sanfrecce after he scored a brace in the dying minutes of the game to earn the men in purple a slender 2-1 win over 10-men Cerezo Osaka.
Having been beaten by J.League 2 side Ventforet Kofu in last week’s Emperor’s Cup final, Sanfrecce came to Saturday’s J.League Cup final at the National Stadium in Tokyo with hopes that they could claim their maiden title in the competition. Standing in their way were Cerezo, who are gunning for their first J.League Cup title since 2017 and are appearing in the competition’s final for the second consecutive year.
Things initially didn’t go according to plan for Sanfrecce. After a cagey first half, Cerezo took the lead in the 53rd minute after a blunder from Sanfrecce defender Sho Sasaki allowed Cerezo’s Mutsuki Kato to intercept Sasaki’s back-pass and slot the ball home after going around Sanfrecce goalkeeper Keisuke Osako.
Disaster struck Cerezo in the 79th minute though, after defender Matej Jonjic and Sanfrecce attacker Nassim Ben Khalifa were involved in an altercation, ending in the former’s dismissal after the referee showed him a red card for a retaliatory response following a review from VAR.
The VAR gods then graced Sanfrecce once again, this time deep within injury time. With the match seemingly set to go Cerezo’s way despite the men in pink playing with only 10 men, VAR had adjudged that Koji Toriumi had committed a handball within the area, prompting the referee to award Sanfrecce with a penalty.
Former Ludogorets Razgrad striker Sotiriou did his task admirably, beating Kim Jin-hyeon in the Cerezo goal with a well-placed penalty.
As the specter of extra time looms over the match, Sotiriou put the game in bed with literally the last kick of the game, reacting the quickest to a Makoto Mitsuta corner to swing home the winning goal and with it, Sanfrecce’s first-ever J.League Cup title, ensuring that it’s not all doom and gloom in the domestic cup front for Michael Skibbe’s men.
With an attendance figure of 39,608 fans packing the National Stadium, Saturday’s final was opened in a poignant manner with a minute’s silence for former Brisbane Roar striker Masato Kudo, who passed away the previous day due to complications from brain surgery.