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David and Goliath: The 2016 J.League Cup Final

Friday 14th October 2016
The Japanese domestic season is down to the business end and this years' first trophy is going to be awarded in just a matter of hours. The Saitama Stadium 2002 will be rocking as Urawa Red Diamonds take on last year's finalists, Gamba Osaka.

Japan's oldest professional football competition, the J.League Cup is set for another thrilling finale in the small hours of Saturday morning. The cup's iconic status is enough of a plaudit to win the cup, although the one-hundred-million yen will certainly go a long way to shaping a club's future prospects. (Just for scope, the prize money is a little quite a bit from a Paul Pogba transfer figure, despite the denomination seeming rather handsome).

The two teams in this year final are no strangers to the cup, Gamba Osaka is set to appear in their third consecutive Levain Cup final having lifted the trophy in 2014 and only narrowly losing out in the 2015 edition. In addition to those contemporary games, they also won the 2007 tournament. Urawa Red Diamonds find themselves in the unusual position of playing a cup final in their home stadium, as Japan's national stadium was closed in 2014 – Urawa's stadium the Saitama Stadium 2002 has hosted all the J.League Cup finals. This is the first time that the tenants of the stadium find themselves contesting the final; which could give them a minor edge over their opponents. Urawa famously contested the last final in the national Olympic stadium in Tokyo, in a losing effort against Kashiwa Reysol. Their one triumph in the cup came several years ago back in 2003.
Gamba Osaka has had an interesting season, by no way reaching the heights of last season's two cup finals and title challenge form, but still a fair performance considering they're here in another chance to win silverware. With three games in the league campaign, the club could still mathematically qualify for the championship stage but it would be reliant on other results coming through. They are currently fifth in the second stage standings and fourth in the overall table; although based on current form this flatters them a bit. Kenta Hasegawa's side come into the game having not won a game in nearly a whole calendar month. Their appearance in this final is only down to the virtue of a lone away goal, in the second leg against Yokohama FM as they failed to beat them in first leg 0-0 and scraped through via veteran Yasuhito Endō's equalising away goal. More alarmingly, in a league game Gamba Osaka were subject to a 4-0 mauling at the hands of Urawa earlier in the month.
By contrast, Urawa Red Diamonds have done seemingly little wrong all season, having won twenty-one of out thirty-one league games so far – the team are set to win the second stage and qualify for the championship stage. Although this weekend it's all about the cup and they look for their first accolade of their impressive season. The club goes into the final with a lot of momentum; having won their last eight successive games. That includes their aforementioned 4-0 win against Gamba Osaka; a massive psychological boost for the Reds. Urawa's success is largely down to their attacking prowess and resources. Shinzo Koroki has twelve league goals this year and netted three against FC Tokyo in the semi-final second leg.

Comparing the two team's form and respective seasons, there's only one winner. Yet Gamba Osaka has a tendency to rise up for the big occasions considering they might not have many more opportunities this year, it could determine whether their season is considered a success or not.

The final kicks off at five-past-five on Saturday morning (UK time).
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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