The Emperor’s Cup delivered a series of big upsets on Wednesday, with the holders and defending Meiji Yasuda J1 League champions both falling to opposition from a lower division.
Urawa Reds won the Emperor's Cup in thrilling fashion last December but their dreams of a repeat were dashed by Thespakusatsu Gunma, who came into the third round match winless in their last six Meiji Yasuda J2 League games. Anything can happen in a cup tie, though, and Thespa fought hard to come away with a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a goal from former Japan youth international Akito Takagi.
Four other J2 clubs also recorded cupsets, including Tokyo Verdy, who captured headlines by shocking Kawasaki Frontale by a score of 1-0.
Verdy traveled to Kawasaki for the third round tie as massive underdogs against the defending J1 champions, but their defense held up strong against one of the most explosive attacks in the country. Then, Ryoga Sato hit for the lone goal of the game to hand Verdy the unlikely win that sends them onto the next round instead of Japan's powerhouse club of the last five years.
It was heartbreak on the blue-and-red side of the capital, though, as V-Varen Nagasaki took down F.C.Tokyo, 3-2. A Cristiano goal in extra-time won a back-and-forth match that looked like it could be headed for penalties.
Tochigi SC were also artists of the upset, taking down the J1’s current leaders, Yokohama F·Marinos. Kosuke Kanbe and Juninho scored second half goals to eliminate the team atop the pyramid, 2-0, in a big win in Tochigi.
Ventforet Kofu also pulled an upset over a J1 team, toppling Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, 2-1. Kazushi Mitsuhira notched a brace in the game-winning performance of the day, as the Consadole defense continued its difficult run.
The Emperor’s Cup is now wide open, with the holders out, alongside J1's current leaders and defending champions. With 11 top flight teams and five J2 sides capable of an upset left in the mix, the race for this year's trophy is likely to feature even more twists and turns along the way to the final.