New Years Day signals new beginning but the Emperor’s Cup Final on January 1st usually brings the curtain down on the previous years domestic Japanese football season. However, this years semi-finals and final dates were much earlier due to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar taking place in the Winter. Presumably Japan National Stadium was booked out so Nissan Stadium in Yokohama was the venue for the final for the first time since 2014.
Against the odds, J2 team Ventforet Kofu overcame Kashima Antlers away from home in the semi final to make it to their first elite cup final. They were set to face Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the showpiece final and the fact that it was those two teams facing off against each other meant it was easy for me to get a ticket. It was my first final since 2018 which I was also only in attendance at as it was moved forward.
For the record, the Emperors Cup is the oldest football tournament in Japan, dating back to 1921, before the formation of any football leagues in Japan. It is the second oldest tournament in the world after the English FA Cup. Before WWII, teams could qualify not only from Japan proper but also from the likes of Korea and Taiwan.
Shin-Yokohama station is the closest station but with a 10 minute connection among big crowds at Kikuna just for a two minute ride on a new line I decided to save the 140 yen JR fee by just walking from Kikuna itself. It was only about 30 minutes and a nice afternoon where I had enough time. Whether avoiding crowds on cup final day is a good thing I’m actually not too sure as the procession of the crowd is all part of the occasion I guess.
It was probably worth it for me though as I did get to see the whole stadium in one shot for the first time on my numerous visits to the Nissan Stadium. The 72,000 seat stadium was host for both the FIFA World Cup final in 2002 and the Rugby World Cup final in 2019. That year was when I last went there to see Chelsea against Kawasaki Frontale.
I arrived half an hour before kick off with some massive queues for food, drinks and a photo with a giant ball! However, you could just go round the back of it and get a shot with the stadium in the background too which seemed far better to me!
Kick off was only 15 minutes away and I was still not inside. QR code on your phone instead of a physical paper ticket is very much the way these days but naturally mine had disappeared from my screen when I needed to show it. Consequently I then had to stand around frantically trying to log back in before going through the whole process of finding the QR code.
Finding the area my ticket was in took longer than expected so I didn’t actually sit down until 1:55 pm ahead of a 2:03 kick off. Not common in Japan where most people really do get to the stadium very early on match days. No sooner had I found my spot and the teams were coming out of the tunnel as the pre-match razzle-dazzle came to a climax with the national anthem.
With singing, cheering and flag-waving allowed in the lower sections behind the goals there was a good atmosphere inside. My view from high up in the stands was good enough but binoculars were useful at times. I wasn’t the only one to use such a device either!
Kofu were the better team in the first half and took a much deserved lead through Masahiro Sekiguchi following a short corner on 30 minutes. One could be very much forgiven for having thought Kofu were the J1 team as Sanfrecce realy didn’t threaten at all.
The second half was a different story though as Hiroshima dominated. They never really looked like scoring though as the Kofu defence remained strong and resolute but the equaliser did eventually come via a bullet shot from a fairly acute angle by Takumu Kawamura with just six minutes left on the clock.
There were only four minutes of extra time remaining when Hiroshima were given a penalty for handball by one of the Kofu substitutes but keeper Kohei Kawata saved the day for the underdogs and pushed Makoto Mitsuta’s penalty round the post.
That was the last chance and it inevitably went down to a penalty shoot-out which is something I’ve not witnessed in person for a while. As a neutral it was of course far more relaxing and enjoyable than previous occasions. The first six were all put away successfully but then Kawamura (their life saver in normal time) missed and the rest were all converted resulting in a big upset for the lowly J2 club who will now be in the Asian Champions League next season.
Final Score: Ventforet Kofu 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima (A.E.T. Kofu won 5-4 on penalties
The trophy lift soon followed. Many of the Hiroshima supporters around me disappeared as is customary on such occasions but I was quite surprised how many did stay around to sportingly give a round of applause to the victors.
This was the first of two cup finals in one week for Sanfrecce Hiroshima who have now lost in the Emperor’s Cup Final six times out of six in the J-League era. They really need to pick themselves up after such a surprise defeat and will hope to make up for the loss by winning the Levain Cup against Cerezo Osaka on Saturday.
Click here to read ‘Watching My First Football Match At The National Stadium In Tokyo’
Click here to read ‘In Attendance At The 98th Emperors Cup Final (2018)’
Click here to read ‘Around The Grounds’
Click here to read ‘Hiroshima-ken 2015 Pt II: My First J-League Game For A While’
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