The Emperor’s Cup is down to eight clubs. By Wednesday night, only four will remain as the chase for knockout glory and a spot in next season’s AFC Champions League continues.
What’s on tap in the quarter-finals?
Kawasaki Frontale vs. Kashima Antlers
If the league tables are any indication, this is the top match of the round as the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE’s first place team, Kawasaki Frontale, takes on sixth-place Kashima Antlers. Frontale, who are on the verge of their fourth top-flight title in the last five years, are also the defending Emperor’s Cup champions, but Kashima are one of the most successful teams in the competition’s history with five championships and another three finals appearances. These two teams did meet in the league last month, when Frontale scored in the 83rd and 94th minutes to win, 2-1.
Gamba Osaka vs. Urawa Reds
Gamba made the final of last season’s competition, where they fell to Frontale, but they will be underdogs in this contest. Urawa are the most successful professional club in the history of the Emperor’s Cup with seven titles and four runners-up showings, and the current team sits fifth in the J1 table, eight places above Gamba. The Nerazzurri are in good form at the moment, though, having beaten Sagan Tosu over the weekend and managed a draw away to Urawa just last week. This meeting also comes in Osaka, giving Gamba more reason to believe.
Nagoya Grampus vs. Cerezo Osaka
Nagoya went further in this season’s AFC Champions League than any other Japanese club, but they may need to win the Emperor’s Cup if they want to play in the continental competition next season. They currently sit fourth in the league table, one spot out of the last guaranteed qualification place to the Champions League. Cerezo also played in this season’s Champions League and the Emperor’s Cup is likely their last path to returning to the competition next year. Making matters all the more interesting is these teams meet for a chance to make the final four of this tournament on Wednesday, but then play again three days later in the J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP Final.
Júbilo Iwata vs. Oita Trinita
The tournament’s two surprise teams meet in the quarter-finals, meaning one will be a shock participant in the semi-finals. Júbilo is the last remaining lower-division side, but as the top team in J2 they are hardly an also-ran. Led by the league’s top scorer Lukian, Júbilo are a dangerous side and in search of their first trophy in more than a decade. Trinita are in the top flight, making them favorites here, but they have struggled this season and currently find themselves in the drop zone. Their run to this stage of the competition is already the highlight of the season, but they still need more in the run-in. Matching a surge in the league to avoid the drop with a deeper cup run would be what dreams are made of.