Following a dramatic end to a league campaign that saw Kashima Antlers unexpectedly lift their fifth J-League crown, the season-ending Emperor’s Cup has taken centre stage in Japan.
The 87th edition of Japan’s oldest sporting competition has been whittled down to the last four from the more than 6000 teams that started, with J1 sides not surprisingly claiming all four semi-final spots.
In the first semi-final, Gamba Osaka will take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi.
Gamba booked their place in the last four with a Fifth Round win over Oita Trinita, before they needed extra-time to see off a stubborn Shimizu S-Pulse in the quarter-finals.
Hiroshima were 2-0 winners over Jubilo Iwata in their Fifth Round tie, before beating FC Tokyo by the same scoreline in their quarter-final clash.
The other semi-final sees newly crowned J-League champions Kashima Antlers take on Kawasaki Frontale at the National Togel Hongkong Stadium in Tokyo.
Kashima have relied upon goals from wantaway striker Atsushi Yanagisawa to fire them into the last four of the Cup, after Yanagisawa struck deep into extra-time against both Ventforet Kofu and non-league outfit Honda FC, as Kashima struggled to book their place in the semi-finals.
By comparison Kawasaki Frontale have enjoyed a much easier run. They beat Vissel Kobe 3-0 in the Fifth Round, before barely breaking a sweat in registering a 2-0 win over J2 side Ehime FC in their quarter-final.
The final of the Emperor’s Cup will take place at the National Stadium in Tokyo on January 1.
2008 Japan fixture list announced
The 2008 fixture list for the Japan national team has been announced, with the Blue Samurai set to embark upon qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Japan kick-off the year with friendlies against Chile and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the National Stadium in January, before their World Cup campaign gets under way against Thailand at Saitama Stadium on February 6.
Japan will also participate in the East Asian Championship, which takes place every three years and which will be hosted by China in 2008. Japan will face DPR Korea, Korea Republic and hosts China at the tournament in late February.
Takeshi Okada names training squad
New Japan coach Takeshi Okada has named his first training squad since taking over from Ivica Osim.
There were no surprises, although Kashima Antlers duo Daiki Iwamasa and Yuzo Tashiro were handed their first call-up’s, as were FC Tokyo defender Yuhei Tokunaga and Gamba Osaka youngster Michihiro Yasuda.
Okada told the press that he would also consider Europe-based trio Naohiro Takahara and Junichi Inamoto of Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Basel midfielder Koji Nakata for selection in 2008. Only Takahara and Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura featured regularly in the Japan side under Ivica Osim.
Meanwhile Osim has left the intensive care unit of a Chiba hospital, as he makes a recovery from the stroke that ended his reign as Japan coach in November.
Japanese Players Overseas
Naohiro Takahara and Junichi Inamoto: Eintracht Frankfurt
Former Boca Juniors striker Naohiro Takahara has endured an injury-plagued second season at Bundesliga side Eintract Frankfurt, starting just four of his eight league appearances. Takahara’s only league goal this season came in a 5-1 thrashing away at 1.FC Nürnberg.
Meanwhile Junichi Inamoto has enjoyed a brighter spell in Frankfurt, starting eleven league games at the mid-table German side.
Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic
Scottish Player Of The Year Shunsuke Nakamura has started just seven leagues for Glasgow giants Celtic, having also endured an injury-riddled season. Nakamura’s last league start came in a 3-0 win over Motherwell back on October 27, with a knee injury potentially ruling Nakamura out of Celtic’s upcoming UEFA Champions League tie with Barcelona.
Celtic have refuted claims that they will allow Nakamura to exercise a get-out clause in his contract and return to former club Yokohama F. Marinos in 2008.
Daisuke Matsui : Le Mans
Winger Daisuke Matsui is back in favour at French Ligue 1 side Le Mans, with new coach Rudi Garcia’s side flying high in fifth place in Le Championnat. Matsui, who is on the wish-list of Italian Serie A side Genoa, has started fifteen league games for Le Mans this season, scoring twice.
Koji Nakata : FC Basel
Former Kashima Antlers midfielder Koji Nakata has featured in all of Swiss club FC Basel’s league games this season, with Basel currently six points clear of rivals FC Zürich going in to the winter break.
Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Alex : Salzburg
Ex-Gamba Osaka defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has started ten of Salzburg’s league fixtures, most recently in Salzburg’s top-of-the-table clash with Sturm Graz on December 15.
Meanwhile ex-Japan international Alex continues to be linked with a move back to the J-League, with former club Urawa Reds the most likely destination for the versatile player.