Gamba Osaka rode their luck to eventually pip Albirex Niigata 2-0 in the second leg of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup semi-final on Sunday, triumphing 3-2 on aggregate.
The cup holders needed to turn around a 2-1 deficit from the first leg, but it was Albirex who instead turned up the livelier side in a first half which they dominated in terms of scoring chances.
Dangerman Ryohei Yamazaki proved to be a menace once again, and nearly capitalised on an awkward backwards header from Takaharu Nishino to crash his shot against the Gamba woodwork right before the break.
Urged on at half time, Kenta Hasegawa’s men found the equaliser when Shu Kurata was brought down on the edge of the Albirex area, with Yasuhito Endo stepping up to send his free-kick beyond the grasp of Tatsuya Morita.
Even then, the visitors continued to threaten as Kosuke Yamamoto was teed up outside the box to produce a shot that stung Yosuke Fujigaya’s gloves.
It was then Hiroyuki Abe’s turn to rue his luck when his attempt from inside the box came off Morita’s post with the score at 1-1.
In a desperate bid to find the equaliser that would have sent them to their first-ever final, Albirex poured forward in stoppage time and were duly punished as a result.
Hiroki Fujiharu caught Morita off his line to roll in Gamba’s crucial second from near the halfway point to send his team into the final of the Nabisco Cup once again, where they will defend their trophy against the challenge of Kashima Antlers.