There is nothing quite like the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP.
The match draws the eyes of the country and the world, not only because it is the kick-off to the new season in Japan but because it is frequently the only top-level game being played at that very moment on Earth. Pitting two of the premier sides from the previous campaign, it is a spotlight unlike any other, bundled with the buzz and excitement of the start of a new year.
Before most of the country has even played a match, an important trophy is handed out—and that is what Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka will be playing for on Saturday when they meet at Saitama Stadium 2002 in Japanese football’s 2021 curtain raiser. This is their chance to show off for a huge global audience and add yet another trophy to their already-overflowing cabinets.
Kawasaki Frontale enter the match as the undisputed favorites. They are in the midst of a run unlike any the country has ever seen, with three MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE titles, an Emperor’s Cup, a J.LEAGUE Cup and the 2019 FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP. But that doesn’t even begin to capture just how good Kawasaki Frontale was in 2020.
To say that Kawasaki Frontale won the J1 LEAGUE and Emperor’s Cup double last season doesn’t do them justice. They set a record for the most points ever won in the league, with a margin at the top of the table also setting a record. Their 88 goals? You guessed it, set a record. And their +57 goal difference was also a J.LEAGUE record. It was, quite simply, the best season Japan has ever seen.
This season’s Kawasaki Frontale squad will look a little different, though. Hidemasa Morita left to play in Portugal, while the legendary Kengo Nakamura retired. João Schmidt has been brought in from Nagoya Grampus and Kazuki Kozuka should help fill those voids, while the club will also lean on the continued growth of their young players, but there is likely to be some adjustment period for the dominant Kawasaki Frontale, and that opens the door for Gamba Osaka.
The 2007 and 2015 FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP winners were runners up in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE a year ago, and the Osaka side are looking to make a statement that they are ready to challenge for the title this time around. They’ve also made a slew of moves this offseason so they can take the fight to Kawasaki Frontale.
Leandor Pereira and Tiago Alves give Gamba Osaka an all-Brazilian option up front. The club also signed Ju Se-jong from FC Seoul, allowing him to join Kim Young-Gwon in a spine straight out of the Korean national team. With those additions, as well as some development within the team, Gamba Osaka is in a position to challenge Kawasaki Frontale for the top spot.
Before the J.LEAGUE season starts in earnest, though, there is a FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP trophy to win. Will Kawasaki Frontale make it clear that they are still the best team Japan has to offer, and ready to build upon a historically great season? Or will Gamba Osaka take a shot across the bow and make clear that they’re set to take down last season’s kings? We will find out on Saturday at Saitama Stadium 2002—and global fans in select markets can be there to catch it all on the J.LEAGUE International YouTube channel!