Gamba Osaka coach Kenta Hasegawa readily admitted that Kashima Antlers were superior to his side in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final, after watching their opponents lift the trophy with a 3-0 win.
The Japanese champions had the chance to defend their crown on Saturday, but were swept away by second-half goals from Hwang Seok-ho, Mu Kanazaki and Caio.
Speaking after the loss, Hasegawa praised Masatada Ishii’s winners while assuming full responsibility for the result, admitting his side were second best throughout the contest at Saitama Stadium.
“This was a complete defeat,” the 50-year-old told reporters. “I want to congratulate Kashima, their players, staff, and supporters.
“We had a lot of supporters backing us and the players fought until the very end, but we were overwhelmed by Kashima’s strength and regret that we couldn’t give our fans a victory and a title.
“They [Antlers] absolutely deserved to win and we couldn’t find and way to escape that over 90 minutes.
“None of the players went into the match expecting to lose, and I take full responsibility for the result. We have to reflect on why we weren’t able to play like winners.”
Takashi Usami failed to repeat his feats from last year’s final, when he scored twice and assisted once against Montedio Yamagata, in this match.
And the team’s top scorer likewise had to admit that Gamba were second best.
“We gave up two goals on set pieces but Kashima controlled the match from the opening stages and it definitely felt like they pressured us throughout the match,” the 23-year-old added.
“They didn’t give us any opportunities, and we didn’t have any great chances. It definitely feels like a loss.
“Kashima’s pressure was even more intense than I expected it to be. We weren’t able to get into second gear, and they beat us in every category.”