Frontale, Reysol ready for Emperor’s Cup final

Frontale, Reysol ready for Emperor’s Cup final

There is one major trophy left to hand out in the 2023 Japanese football season and on Saturday at the Japan National Stadium, Kawasaki Frontale or Kashiwa Reysol will hold it aloft as the Emperor’s Cup champions.

The Emperor’s Cup final is more than just the traditional curtain closer and a prestigious tournament final, too. It also confers Japan’s third and final AFC Champions League Elite place to the winner, making Saturday a massive day in the capital.

Frontale reached the final by beating teams from low and high in the Japanese football pyramid. They took down two fourth-division sides on their path, but they also defeated top-flight Albirex Niigata on penalties before a romping triumph over Avispa Fukuoka in the semi-final to book their trip to the National Stadium.

Reysol’s opponent profile stretched even further, beginning with a university side in Yamanashi Gakuin Pegasus. They then faced off with Meiji Yasuda J2 League side Tokushima Vortis and then J1 opponents Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo and Nagoya Grampus. After this, it was a date with second-division Roasso Kumamoto, ending the J2 side's dream in the semi-final, sending Kashiwa to the final with an astounding 16-1 cumulative score in the competition.

Their terrific play in the Emperor’s Cup has been the outlier in an otherwise difficult season for Reysol. They found themselves in a relegation fight all season, but the cup has been their place to shine. With another year in the top flight secured, capturing a cup would make 2023 an unqualified success in Kashiwa and put them on a path to a big 2024, with Asia’s top competition beckoning.

Frontale did not struggle like Reysol this season, never being threatened by relegation, but it was hardly a great season for a club that's been dominant in the recent past. Kawasaki entered the season having won four of the last seven Meiji Yasuda J1 League titles and competed at the top every year, but were mired in mid-table for all of this campaign. Cups have been their saving grace, though, having already dominated their AFC Champions League group to advance to the knockout stages and now 90 minutes away from capturing yet another major trophy.

Mao Hosoya Kashiwa Reysol

Which team walks away with the silverware could be decided by which young star shines brightest. Reysol’s attack is hardly prolific, but Mao Hosoya is a one-man wrecking crew who can turn anything into a chance at goal (as his 14 goals in J1 this season proved). A trophy-winning performance in Tokyo would be fitting for one of Japan’s most exciting young stars.

Frontale counter with Taisei Miyashiro, a 23-year-old who scored eight goals of his own this season. He has the help of a recently resurgent Leandro Damião, who is finally healthy again and provides the experienced guile to Miyashiro’s youthful verve.

Will Miyashiro be the man holding the Emperor’s Cup? Or will Hosoya and Co. snag it and book their ticket to Asia’s preeminent competition? We’ll find out on Saturday at the Japan National Stadium.