The first silverware of the 2015 season was handed out on Saturday, as Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka clashed in the Nabisco Cup final…
SAITAMA — Kashima Antlers extended their record as the most successful club in the Nabisco Cup on Saturday, beating 2014 champions Gamba Osaka 3-0 at Saitama Stadium.
South Korean defender Hwang Seok Ho opened the scoring with a header from a corner in the 60th minute, with Mu Kanazaki and Caio striking twice inside three minutes late on to deliver Antlers their sixth triumph in the competition.
“We assumed relative control of the game from the first half but knew Gamba always posed a threat on the break,” Kashima coach Masatada Ishii said postmatch.
“As a team, we dealt with that well and were able to play our football. We also managed to keep a clean sheet, so I’d say we were able to win with the perfect game.”
Antlers started the brighter of the sides and could have taken the lead twice in the opening five minutes. First Atsutaka Nakamura sent an effort over the bar after a neat one-two with Yasushi Endo, then Shuhei Akasaki squirted an effort off target from close range.
The Ibaraki outfit continued to dominate in the opening exchanges, and went close again in the 13th minute.
Akasaki ghosted into the box with some tricky dribbling on the left and laid back for Nakamura, but he was denied a Halloween treat by Yasuhito Endo, who blocked it with his head.
Last year’s treble-winner Gamba struggled to carve out any real opportunities of their own, and the closest they came in the first half was a tame Takashi Usami effort struck straight at Hitoshi Sogahata after a 40-meter run from inside his own half.
Antlers continued to press and the breakthrough finally came from a Mitsuo Ogasawara corner after an hour, as Hwang charged into the box late and headed home while totally unmarked from the edge of the 6-yard box.
“We’d been working on set plays in training and knew if we made the right runs at the right times, we’d have chances,” the 26-year-old said. “I was able to lose my marker well and then all I had to do was head the ball in.
“It’s a big thing for this club and these players to have been able to win a title today, and now we have to take this confidence into the remaining games of the season. We have two [league] games left and should now play without any nervousness.”
Kashima almost doubled its lead two minutes later as Endo played Nakamura in behind the Gamba defense, but he couldn’t get his effort beyond Masaaki Higashiguchi, who closed him down sharply. The Ibaraki side continued to fashion the best chances, and Kanazaki — who had been a menace throughout — extended the lead in the 84th minute, outjumping Patric and heading beyond Higashiguchi after Yuma Suzuki had headed a deep corner back into the danger zone.
Gamba came from two goals down in last year’s final to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2, but Kenta Hasegawa’s side never looked likely to repeat that feat this time around, and Caio made sure of the victory for Antlers with three minutes to play, tearing down on goal and sweeping beyond the onrushing Higashiguchi.
“We were well-beaten,” Hasegawa said. “My players fought until the very end, but couldn’t match Antlers today. I want to congratulate all of the Kashima players and staff. That was a victory worthy of a championship.”