The J.LEAGUE season may be over, but there is still one giant competition left to finish - the Emperor’s Cup. Four teams remain in the tournament, with a pair of semi-finals this weekend set to further whittle the challengers down to two.
Kawasaki Frontale vs. Oita Trinita
There could not be two more different teams left in this competition than this pair. Frontale already won the league for the fourth time in five seasons this year and they are defending Emperor’s Cup champions, so they enter the semifinals as heavy favorites to capture yet another cup crown. It hasn’t been nearly as good a season for Trinita, who were relegated from the top flight and they have little Emperor’s Cup history to rely upon, with this being their first ever trip to the semifinals.
Trinita have played Frontale closer this season than one would expect, though. They lost a pair of 2-0 matches, creating some decent chances on the counterattack in both. In a single match where they only need to find a bit of magic to pull the upset, Trinita very much have a chance and they come into this semi-final in good form, too. Trinita managed a draw and two wins in their last three league contests so they are in good spirits as they eye a monumental shock and a spot in the final.
Urawa Reds vs. Cerezo Osaka
No professional team has won the Emperor’s Cup more than Urawa, who, like Yokohama F·Marinos, have been crowned champions seven times. But Urawa want to hold the professional record for cup titles and can do so if they take home the trophy this year. A cup title would also be a fantastic achievement for J1 Manager of the Year Ricardo Rodríguez, who has stabilized the defense and supercharged the attack in his two seasons, moving them eight spots up the table.
Cerezo have moved in the opposite direction, going from fourth place a year ago to 12th this season. Cup competitions have been their saving grace in 2021, though, making the final of the J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP and now the semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup. A trophy would put their league campaign in the rearview mirror and allow the Sakura to bask in the glory of being champions, carrying joy and positivity into next season.
These two teams have already met in a cup semi-final once this season, with Cerezo triumphing over two legs in the J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP. It was their defense that made the difference in that tie, with them holding Urawa to just one goal over 180 minutes. Will that defense do the trick again, or will Kasper Junker and Co. break through to chase an eighth Emperor’s Cup?