The Play-off Stage of the 2021 J.LEAGUE YBC Levain CUP is in the books, with four teams advancing to join the four 2021 AFC Champions League participants in the last eight.
With Kawasaki Frontale, Gamba Osaka, Cerezo Osaka, and Nagoya Grampus already in the mix on the basis of qualifying for continental competition, let’s take a look at the four teams that have earned the right to meet them in the Prime Stage.
Kashima Antlers 3, Shimizu S-Pulse 1 (on aggregate)
Kashima Antlers booked their spot in the last eight after defeating Shimizu S-Pulse in both legs of their Play-off Stage battle. After Naoki Hayashi put Antlers ahead in Shizuoka, the Ibaraki side kept home-field advantage through Brazilians Juan Alano and Everaldo.
Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 4, Yokohama F·Marinos 2 (on aggregate)
No J.LEAGUE side has to adjust for travel like Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo but the men from the north showed admirable attitude away from home, sealing a spot in the Prime Stage with a tremendous second-leg performance.
Following a 1-1 draw in Sapporo that included a Ryota Aoki rocket from 25 yards, Consadole cruised in Yokohama. The hosts, cup winners in 2001, were dealt a tough 3-1 defeat, courtesy of goals from Daiki Suga and Takahiro Yanagi after an early own goal put Sapporo in the lead.
F.C.Tokyo 4, Shonan Bellmare 2 (on aggregate)
After a tense first-leg defeat in the capital, and still smarting from an early Emperor’s Cup exit in the midweek, F.C.Tokyo responded in brilliant style at Shonan Bellmare.
Facing another potential heartbreak in cup competition, the holders dictated play in difficult circumstances and were deserved victors after four goals from a Brazilian trio earned them a 4-1 win in Kanagawa. Leandro and Diego Oliveira opened the scoring before a brace from Adaílton put the match, and the tie, well out of reach.
Urawa Reds 4, Vissel Kobe 3 (on aggregate)
Global audiences watching on YouTube were treated to a sumptuous second leg between Urawa and Vissel after a 2-1 away win in Kobe gave Reds the advantage in the opener. The battle between recently-crowned Konami Monthly MVP Kasper Junker and the legendary Andrés Iniesta certainly lived up to the hype, as both men put their names on the scoresheet and saw their teams take the tie down to the wire.
Yoshio Koizumi opened the scoring from a fierce Urawa counter, before a Douglas header brought Vissel back within a goal. But it was the Reds who would surge ahead again, as Junker finished off another Urawa counter in first-half stoppage time, spectacularly lobbing Daiya Maekawa from the top of the 18 at practically full sprint.
In the second half, Andrés Iniesta was able to bring Vissel level on the night yet again with a fantastic free kick, rocketing the ball into the corner from 25 yards out, but the visitors wouldn't have enough to level the tie and it was the Saitama side through to the Prime Stage at the final whistle.