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Emperor's Cup Quarter Finals
It was a busy weekend, and the Emperor's Cup quarter-finals sort of went by in a blur. I had thought this last opportunity for a title would get the teams remaining to put on more of a stubborn fight, but the games all finished without any nail-biting PKs. Some teams just didn't have that extra "something" to pull themselves out of a tough situation, and other teams had the momentum.

SportsNavi has included video highlights streams from the game, so I've posted the links below. You may have trouble getting uninterrupted streaming if the demand is high, but maybe try the links again in a day or two.

Cerezo supporters thanking the team for the gift of a xmas win
Cerezo Osaka 3-1 Gamba Osaka
>>Click to see video stream of 1st half
>>Click to see video stream of 2nd half

This last Osaka Derby of the year (I think it was the fifth time these two teams met this year) ended with an unquestionable first victory for Cerezo. Giving away 3 goals is not outside the scope of a Gamba game, but usually they have the firepower to get more goals than they give up. Unfortunately, against a full-strength Cerezo chomping at the bit to finally stamp their foot down and get a win over the league champs, Gamba had little in its reserves.

Cerezo were very strong. The team was effectively thinking as a unit, and their style and aims were very clear. The most inspiring thing about the way Cerezo played was the dynamism with which their front players ran towards the goal when they got possession. With players coming at them at full speed, the Gamba 3-back line was pulled apart, not knowing who to cover on the cross.

Gamba on the other hand, without Araujo and Oguro, had tried to play their style of football relying on individual talent to create inroads, but lacked the finishing creativity and depth. The weakness of a team that has relied heavily on individual skill when they suddenly lose two of their top scoring players.

What hurt Gamba was also that Cerezo put on such a quick threat when they won the ball back, that the players in the back half of midfield, like Endo, who usually play a big role on the offense, could not seem to find good timing to go up and join the attack. Gamba were also a little unlucky on a couple shots, a free kick by Endo hitting the bar, among some other close calls. But overall, watching as a third-party spectator, I was won over by the Cerezo play. And in particular, the importance of Cerezo's veteran stars like Morishima and Nishizawa were a big part of their unity and strength. Nishizawa looked like he was ready to keel over from exhaustion towards the end, but for most of the game he showed why he was still such a key player. His ability to keep the ball, not get pulled down by defenders, it was a great example of some of the fighting spirit we would like to see throughout the J-league next season.

The photo above, from J's Goal, is of the Cerezo supporters thanking the team for a great Xmas present (the win).

Kashima Antlers 0-1 Omiya Ardija
>>Click to see video stream digest of 1st half
>>Click to see video stream of digest 2nd half

Going into the match the comment coming from the Omiya camp was "Even if we defend for 99% of the game, if we can just get that 1% chance. That is our hope." But actually, Kashima were caught on the back foot several times in the first fifteen minutes of the game, with some amazing dribbling by Omiya players like Sakurai, and even sideback Nishimura (boy, could he dribble!), the Orange were this close to scoring very early in the game. But Kashima regained control, and the game for the most part was Kashima's to win.

Unfortunately, it was the same old same old case of The Finish. While Omiya's Morita got through and converted on a sole run past the defense for their one "1% chance" goal, Kashima could not find the back of the net once. Not once. Sigh. To add insult to injury, Ogasawara was given his second yellow of the game was expelled from the pitch in the final minutes.

This finishing has been Kashima's problem for a number of years now, and it will be interesting to see whether the new manager of Kashima will be able to do something about it next season.

Congratulations to Omiya Ardija! They played smart, to their strengths. They knew Antlers would be gunning to come forward, and their simple and dynamic counters were effective and speedy in this game. Very nicely done.

Urawa Reds 2-0 Kawasaki Frontale
>>Click to see video stream digest of 1st half
>>Click to see video stream digest of 2nd half

Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 Jubilo Iwata
>>Click to see video stream digest of 1st half
>>Click to see video stream digest of 2nd half
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