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Emperor's Cup Preview

Tuesday 8th November 2016
Japan ' s standard league in J1 has now ended, only the Championship phase remains where the best three teams compete to see who will be crowned the champions of Japan ' s top tier. Although the season isn ' t over, the Emperor ' s Cup; Japan ' s oldest footballing competition ' s has yet to conclude.

Cup Football gets no bigger than this in Japan, founded in 1921 – for ninety-five years the cup has been one of the biggest accolades of Asian football. The winner of this prestigious trophy not only basks in the glory of the feat itself but also qualifies for the AFC Champions League. That prize was introduced by the Japanese Football Association back in 2001; when the body wanted to further incentivise the cup.

There's a certain festive and seasonal theme around the Emperor's Cup; considering the competition's concluding rounds. It's currently just the fourth round; but the quarter, semi and overall final are all played between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. This round sees sixteen teams become eight as the teams realise whether their seasons are continuing into December or coming to an abrupt autumnal end.

Wednesday 9th of November Kick-Offs

The J1 league may have finished for the season, but other leagues like J2 are still finishing off their season and henceforth all have games at the weekend. This fact has allowed them a mid-week fixture in the cup.

Gamba Osaka vs. Shimizu S-Pulse

Gamba Osaka has won the Emperor's Cup for the last two seasons running and would make history if they win the cup again this year. This would make their season considering that they have not qualified for the Championship stage. The visiting side, Shimizu S-Pulse are still in the midst of a J2 season. They come into the game in fantastic form having won their last seven games in a row. That could all end very soon however as S-Pulse do not usually get the better of Gamba, having lost the last five games against them.
Highlights from a previous encounter between the two sides.

Omiya Ardija vs. Yokohama FC

Omiya Ardija has been one the surprise packages of J1 this season, head coach Hiroki Shibuya has turned the team into one of the big hitters. Usually associated with the lower end of the table, the class of Yokotani and Ienaga elevated the team to a fifth place position. By all measures, Yokohama FC is not having as a good a season. They are in the second division and with just two games left to play have almost no chance of qualifying for the promotion playoffs.

Last season Omiya Ardija competed in J2, meaning there were two meeting between the clubs. The home team won both meetings in convincing fashion as they won 3-0 both home and away.

F.C. Tokyo vs. Honda Lock

The team from the capital have arguably the easiest tie of the round. They face Honda Lock: A Japanese Football League side, which is the fourth tier – just below the J3 League. The JFL representative, Honda Lock, are most likely the best candidate from non-league – as they are top of the table. This is a result of their good form this season, played fourteen: won ten, drawn three and only lost the one. The two teams have never played each other before; this encounter will be certainly being of interest to the Japanese football fan, as world's biggest city's club host the best non-league side.

Saturday 12th November Kick-Offs

Kashiwa Reysol vs. Shonan Bellmare

Kashiwa Reysol has had a prickly season, they provided stern opposition to a lot of their league opponents including an exciting 3-3 draw with last year's champions, Sanfrecce. However, they lacked consistency and finished eighth overall. They welcome relegated, Shonan Bellmare to the Hitachi Stadium. Shonan Bellmare only won seven games all season and lost twenty-one.

The two meetings this season between the two sides both ended in a stalemate, 0-0 at the BMW stadium and 1-1 at the Hitachi very early on in the season.

Kashima Antlers vs. Vissel Kobe

It might have been bonfire night the other day, yet there's potential for further fireworks with this meeting. Kashima Antlers won the first stage and henceforth are in the championship – despite having a dire second stage. This cup gives the opportunity for Kashima for a unique double. They ultimately finished eleventh in the second stage table. This is a polar opposite to Vissel Kobe's second stage season, who came to life and managed to finish second in the respective table. Given their respective late run of form, this cup could give the Kobe side a decent extension of their season.

The two teams actually met in the same stadium just a mere few days ago on the last day of the league season. Vissel Kobe won the game away from home, courtesy of a Pedro Junior goal. This result could present a major psychological edge for Kobe going into this game.
Footage from the last day of the season where the two sides met each other in the same fixture.  

Yokohama FM vs. Albirex Niigata

Yokohama FM was at one stage dreaming of league title run, especially with their early second stage form. That subsided over time and recently the results have been so-so. Finishing ninth overall, it's no wonder the team have drawn their last five games on the run. Albirex Niigata will be happy just to still be in J1 – having narrowly avoided relegation via goal difference; this cup game will serve as a celebration for the team, considering their poor season.

Sagan Tosu vs. Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Sagan Tosu never really threatened either side of the table, having won twelve games, lost twelve and drew the other ten.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima has struggled this season, despite having Peter Utaka, the league's top goalscorer in their ranks – it's not quite all come together for last season's champions. Finishing sixth and outside of the championship stage is quite the aberration for the club, however, AFC Champions League qualification would go some way to restoring order at the club. This is the club's last chance for success this season.

The last game between the two sides ended 3-2 in favour of Hiroshima, which ended up being more complicated than necessary. Sanfrecce were up by three within sixty-two minutes; yet then had a major lapse at the back – conceding two in quick succession. The game itself is a metaphor for their season, very good going forward but very naïve defensively.

Kawasaki Frontale vs. Urawa Red Diamonds

This fixture could be the tie of the round; it pits two of the Championship stage teams against each other in what could be an early indicator as to who's going to win the overall the league. The two sides are currently the pride of Japanese football, and will both represent the nation in the Asian Champions League already.

The games between the two sides, especially this season have had a lot riding on them. This meeting is third this season; and dependent on the championship stage – there could even be a fourth in the grand final. The two sides have both won away from home in this fixture. First versus second always provokes the best in each team, whilst it's in the cup – these two will still put on a show for prestige for the country's richest cup competition.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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