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Urawa’s shot at Redemption: the Japanese Super Cup

Friday 17th February 2017
Urawa Red Diamonds are likely to still be sore from the last day of last season. They went the distance and were one of the best teams throughout the whole campaign, but lost the title in the endgame via away goals. This winner-take-all curtain raiser will give them the opportunity of redemption against Kashima Antlers.

Japan like every footballing association, has a preliminary trophy at the start of each season – contested by the two top performers of the last campaign. Due to sponsorship reasons, it's officially known as the Fuji Xerox Super Cup. The cup is currently contested at the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

Kashima Antlers are the most successful team in the competition's history, having won the trophy five times prior. They are just above Urawa Red Diamonds, who have the trophy four times.

In 2016, Kashima Antlers won both the J.League and the Emperor's Cup – so the J.League runners-up qualify for the super cup. This means football is treated to another meeting between Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds, a re-match of last year's grand final.

The J.League championship stage culminates in a two-legged tie where the overall league winner is decided. Urawa won away from home in the first game but suffered a 2-1 loss at home. This resulted in that Kashima Antlers controversially winning their eighth title via the away goals rule. This system of two league standings and a championship series was largely opposed and has since been abolished in favour of the conventional European home and away round-robin system.
Highlights from the J.League final where Kashima Antlers shocked world football.

The last remnant of the unpopular three-phase system is Kashima Antlers and their participation in the super cup. The old system regarded their early season form as title-worthy and propelled them to the endgame, despite finishing fifteen points off top-placed Urawa. The players of Urawa Red Diamonds would have felt especially upset and dejected about this. Statistically; they were probably the best team. Finishing first in the overall table, conceding the fewest amount of goals and scoring sixty-one goals (the second highest throughout the campaign). Five of the Urawa Red Diamonds starting line-up made the official J1 team of the season, a testament to how well the team played throughout the year. A real blow that they could receive so much praise, look back at the favourable data but actually have no trophy to show for their fantastic season.

Urawa Red Diamonds may not hold Kashima Antlers personally responsible but will see the club as a beneficiary of the J.League's old poor format. The Super Cup and its result won't change anything retrospectively, but the Diamonds have every right to treat it like it will. For Urawa, this could be a third-leg in the championship phase. After all, it's 2-2 on aggregate and the Super Cup will be awarded after ninety minutes (failing that, penalties). Setting up a perfect hypothetical conclusion to last year's disappointing culmination. A win for Urawa would feel like retribution against the system that arguably failed them and the whole of Japanese football.

This Super Cup fixture will be the fifth encounter in the eight months. The previous four matches have all produced winners, all strangely for the away side. Given that and the neutral ground; it adds a further spotlight to the grand showcase showdown, which provides Urawa Red Diamonds with this shot at redemption.

The game kicks off on Saturday morning at 4:35 am (UK time), live from Yokohama.
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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