Old rivalries will be renewed in the Emperor’s Cup Final, when Urawa Reds face off against Gamba Osaka on New Year’s Day. The Reds will be looking to make up for their finals football failings, after a promising start to the J-League season ended in tears earlier in December.
The Saitama (just north of Tokyo) based club stumbled through their semi final with Kashiwa Reysol via a 117th minute winner courtesy of Tadanari Lee. Urawa had previously knocked off quarter final opponent Vissel Kobe 3-0. The Reds picked up three first half goals in that fixture on December 26th, however, their December 29th fixture was more taxing.
Gamba Osaka’s path through the quarter finals and into the final has been less troublesome. On Saturday, 26th December, Gamba got home 3-1 over Sagan Tosu, while three days later they gave the J-League champions a footballing lesson.
Inspired by another Takashi Usami brace (Usami scored twice v Sagan Tosu), Gamba demolished Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-0. It was sweet revenge for the Osaka club who were runners up to Hiroshima in the J-League’s two legged Championship Final just weeks earlier.
Hiroshima were no doubt suffering burnout. The ‘purple archers’ had recently won the Championship Final, before playing four matches at the FIFA World Club Cup, where they finished a respectable third.
In today’s final however, it’s Urawa who will most likely be feeling the effects of fatigue after their 120 minute semi final with Kashiwa. In order to win the Emperor’s Cup, the Reds will have to alter the ‘head to head’ history of this fixture.
In 2015 the teams met four times, and Gamba Osaka were victors on three occasions. The most recent being the J-League Championship Semi Final on 28th November.
Urawa’s influential midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi is in doubt also after his 39th minute injury substitution against Kashiwa.
The above factors make it hard for us to envisage a win for the Reds however, bookmakers have the Kanto club as favourites. Along with bragging rights the reward for today’s winner is a place in Asian Champions League Group G with Melbourne Victory (Aust.) and the likes of Suwon Bluewings (Sth Korea). The loser will slot into Group H with Guangzhou Evergrande and Sydney FC.