Avispa Fukuoka made the whole of Kyushu proud as they became the first team from the region to win a major honor since 2008 by winning the 2023 J.League Cup title. The Wasps clinch their historic title after seeing off reigning Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds 2-1 in Saturday’s final at the National Stadium in Tokyo.
The region of Kyushu has yet to taste any footballing success after Oita Trinita’s 2008 J.League Cup triumph. The Turtles came close to ending the drought by going all the way into the 2021 Emperor’s Cup final, only for Urawa to beat them 2-1.
And it came as some sort of poetic justice that Avispa, the team that ended Kyushu’s thirst for footballing silverware, did so by overcoming Urawa, the very same team that denied the island two years ago.
Kyushu overall had a decent 2023 in terms of football. Sure the island’s teams had a mixed bag in the league – both Avispa and Sagan Tosu were comfortably mid-table in the J.League 1, while Oita saw their chances for promotion slip away from their grasp after a poor second half of the 2023 J.League 2 season. V-Varen Nagasaki, on the other hand, are still well and alive in the promotion races, while Roasso Kumamoto breathe a sigh of relief as they will be staying in the second tier for yet another year. Down in the J.League 3, Kagoshima United were vying for promotion while both FC Ryukyu and Tegevajaro Miyazaki struggled massively in the bottom half…and let’s not talk about Giravanz Kitakyushu, who are dead last in the third tier.
However, Kyushu’s strength truly shined in the cup matches. Both Avispa and Roasso made it all the way into the Emperor’s Cup semifinals, only for Kawasaki Frontale and Kashiwa Reysol to deny them a Kyushu Derby cup final. The Wasps of Avispa also fared well in the J.League Cup, knocking out the likes of FC Tokyo and Nagoya Grampus to seal their date with Urawa in the final.
Obviously being Asian champions and all, Urawa came in as the favorites. However, Avispa embraced their underdog tag and stunned Urawa after just five minutes. Kazuya Konno managed to slip his way past Urawa defender Takuya Ogiwara before he squeezed in a low cross towards Hiroyuki Mae, who stabbed home past Shusaku Nishikawa in the Urawa goal.
Conceding the opener stung Urawa into action and they proceeded to dominate proceedings, however it took Maciej Skorza’s men 35 minutes for them to get their first meaningful chance – a Ken Iwao screamer that did not found its target.
Avispa defender Daiki Miya did well offensively throughout the match, constantly testing Nishikawa with his headers, before he found his way in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Once again it was Konno who acted as creator, angling in a low cross that trickled between the legs of an Urawa defender. Miya then latched onto the ball and nutmegged another Urawa defender as he doubled Avispa’s advantage.
The second half saw Avispa flying out of the blocks and the Wasps found themselves having the opportunity to pull themselves even further in the 58th minute, after Douglas Grolli was fouled by Marius Hoibraten within the area. However, Nishikawa was on-hand to deny Yuya Yamagishi’s weak penalty.
Substitute Takahiro Akimoto gave Urawa a fighting chance in the 67th minute, latching onto a Hiroki Sakai pass before drilling low into Takumi Nagaishi’s goal.
Avispa then proceeded to shut up shop and defended resiliently against an onslaught from Urawa, clinging onto dear life as they seek to retain their one-goal advantage. Their efforts were rewarded nicely come full-time, as Avispa clinched their first-ever major silverware, as well as winning Kyushu their first title since 2008.