Changes announced to Nabisco Cup Group Stage

The J.League on Tuesday night announced changes to the 2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup following FC Tokyo’s AFC Champions League Playoff win over Chonburi FC.

Tokyo, who were scheduled to compete in Group A, will now receive a bye to the Knockout Stage of the Nabisco Cup as a result of their participation in the ACL Group Stage.

Clubs scheduled to play Tokyo during the Group Stage of the Nabisco Cup will now receive byes for those rounds.

The round-robin phase of the cup tournament begins on March 23 and will conclude on June 5.

2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup

Group A: Kashima Antlers, Omiya Ardija, Shonan Bellmare, Ventforet Kofu, Jubilo Iwata, Nagoya Grampus, Vissel Kobe

Group B: Vegalta Sendai, Albirex Niigata, Kashiwa Reysol, Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama F. Marinos, Avispa Fukuoka, Sagan Tosu

Seeded to Knockout Stage: Urawa Reds, FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka, Sanfrecce Hiroshima

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Groups announced for 2016 Nabisco Cup

Yamazaki Nabisco Cup holders Kashima Antlers have been drawn in Group A for the 2016 edition of the competition.

The J.League on Thursday announced the group stage schedule for the tournament, with FC Tokyo temporarily slotted into Group A pending their AFC Champions League qualifying play-off result.

The group stage will take place between March 23 and June 5 with the top two teams from each group qualifying for the knockout stage, where they will join participants in the AFC Champions League.

The full schedule can be seen on the Schedule & Results page

■2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Group Stage

Group A: Kashima Antlers, Ventforet Kofu, Omiya Ardija, Shonan Bellmare, Jubilo Iwata, Nagoya Grampus, Vissel Kobe, FC Tokyo*

Group B: Vegalta Sendai, Albirex Niigata, Kashiwa Reysol, Kawasaki Frontale, Sagan Tosu, Yokohama F.Marinos, Avispa Fukuoka

Seeded to Knockout Stage: Urawa Reds, Gamba Osaka, Sanfrecce Hiroshima

*Will be seeded to knockout stage with win in AFC Champions League play-off on February 9

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Hasegawa and Usami left to lament outright Gamba defeat

Gamba Osaka coach Kenta Hasegawa readily admitted that Kashima Antlers were superior to his side in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final, after watching their opponents lift the trophy with a 3-0 win.

The Japanese champions had the chance to defend their crown on Saturday, but were swept away by second-half goals from Hwang Seok-ho, Mu Kanazaki and Caio.

Speaking after the loss, Hasegawa praised Masatada Ishii’s winners while assuming full responsibility for the result, admitting his side were second best throughout the contest at Saitama Stadium.

“This was a complete defeat,” the 50-year-old told reporters. “I want to congratulate Kashima, their players, staff, and supporters.

“We had a lot of supporters backing us and the players fought until the very end, but we were overwhelmed by Kashima’s strength and regret that we couldn’t give our fans a victory and a title.

“They [Antlers] absolutely deserved to win and we couldn’t find and way to escape that over 90 minutes.

“None of the players went into the match expecting to lose, and I take full responsibility for the result. We have to reflect on why we weren’t able to play like winners.”

Takashi Usami failed to repeat his feats from last year’s final, when he scored twice and assisted once against Montedio Yamagata, in this match.

And the team’s top scorer likewise had to admit that Gamba were second best.

“We gave up two goals on set pieces but Kashima controlled the match from the opening stages and it definitely felt like they pressured us throughout the match,” the 23-year-old added.

“They didn’t give us any opportunities, and we didn’t have any great chances. It definitely feels like a loss.

“Kashima’s pressure was even more intense than I expected it to be. We weren’t able to get into second gear, and they beat us in every category.”

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Antlers power past Gamba to clinch record Nabisco Cup triumph

Kashima Antlers lifted a record sixth Yamazaki Nabisco Cup as they beat former holders Gamba Osaka 3-0 on Saturday.

Mastada Ishii’s men headed into the match knowing it was a perfect opportunity to end the club’s trophy drought since they won the competition in 2012, and duly took charge.

Nevertheless, they were unable to break through in the first half despite their dominance, but the opener was on its way and arrived right on the hour mark via Hwang Seok-ho.

The South Korean defender exploited Gamba’s weaknesses at defending set-pieces to power home Mitsuo Ogasawara’s corner.

Failing to pay heed to the danger, Kenta Hasegawa’s side allowed Mu Kanazaki an easy finish from another delivery from the corner flag, before Caio wrapped up the win in a textbook counter-attack as their opponents pushed forward.

The cup is Ishii’s maiden silverware as Antlers manager and caps a remarkable turnaround from the team since he took over in July.

Japan’s most successful outfit also have a chance to win the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League come the end of the season.

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Ishii praises Antlers for ‘perfect’ game

Masatada Ishii praised Kashima Antlers for playing the “perfect” game in a 3-0 win against Gamba Osaka as they lifted the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup on Saturday.

Second-half goals from Hwang Seok-ho, Mu Kanazaki and Caio were enough to see Antlers clinch their sixth such title, while it was Ishii’s first as manager of the club.

Speaking to reporters after the result, the 48-year-old credited their opponents for putting up a tough fight, but maintains the result was a fair one in the end.

When we played them at home [in a 2-1 loss on matchday 10 of the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League second stage] we pushed forward and they were able to score,” Ishii said.

“But today we played perfectly and I’m very glad we were able to keep a clean sheet. As you’d expect from Gamba Osaka it was a tough first half and I thought they’d resist until the bitter end. 

“To a certain extent we controlled the match, but they also threatened us through their counters on occasion and it’s good that we didn’t give up any goals.

“In the second half we expected them to come out and attack us, but we were able to defend and by the end of the match the play had developed into the style we’re used to playing.”

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Hwang: Corner goals against Gamba were practiced

Goalscorer Hwang Seok-ho revealed Kashima Antlers had rehearsed their set-piece routines to perfection ahead of their 3-0 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final win over Gamba Osaka.

The Korean centre-back netted the crucial opener right on the hour mark from Mitsuo Ogasawara’s corner, before Mu Kanazaki added a second shortly after from a similar dead-ball situation.

And Hwang was glad the number of hours they put in on the training ground paid off as they secured a milestone result for the club. 

“Keisuke Iwashita was marking me, but I was able to break away from his mark and the ball came to me at just the right time, so all I had to do was head it in,” he told reporters.

“In training we discussed predicting where the ball will go during a corner kick, and how if the three of us can run in at the same time we’ll be able to turn it into something. 

“I’m glad that led to a goal today.”

After playing a pivotal role in Antlers’ latest Nabisco Cup triumph with his deliveries, Ogasawara - with a record five trophies - said the club’s secret lay in their spirit of success and big-game temperament.

Our strength is that we’ve been here many times before and know what we have to do at this stage,” he said.

“I’ve been playing with Yatto [Gamba captain Yasuhito Endo] since we were both teenagers and I don’t think I’ve  beaten him on the pitch or in the record books. 

“I’m really happy that I was able to play with him today, and I hope that our generation, like [Consadole Sapporo veterans] Shinji Ono and Junichi Inamoto can continue to play hard in the J.League.”

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Shibasaki: Antlers must extend Nabisco Cup record

Gaku Shibasaki urged Kashima Antlers to build on their legacy in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup by winning Saturday’s final against holders Gamba Osaka.

Antlers have won the competition five times, last lifting the trophy in 2011 followed by 2012.

And Shibasaki has demanded his team-mates give their all in order to clinch a record sixth trophy.

“I think we’ll be able to deliver our best possible performance against Gamba Osaka, and I promise our fans and supporters that they’ll get a great match,” the playmaker told reporters.

“We have a great relationship with this tournament and speaking for both myself and the team, we want to return home with the trophy.”

Gamba Osaka captain Yasuhito Endo insisted his side would not go down without a fight, saying: “I’m glad that we can face such a great opponent in the final.

“But we can’t enjoy the day if we don’t win so all of us - the players on the pitch, the players who didn’t make the squad, and the staff - have to use all of our strength in order to bring the Cup back to Osaka.”

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Hasegawa and Ishii urge teams to fight for Nabisco Cup crown

Kenta Hasegawa revealed he was grateful that Gamba Osaka have managed to reach the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final for the second year running, ahead of their clash with Kashima Antlers.

The Japanese Treble winners enter Saturday’s showdown having won last year’s edition, and their manager took pride in his players’ determination to defend their crown.

“I’m grateful that we’ve been able to return to this stage again,” Hasegawa told reporters at the pre-match press conference. 

“We had to use a lot of different players due to our tight schedule, but we were united as a team. I really want to praise my players.

“Kashima Antlers are an incredibly strong opponent and I think it will be a great match. I hope that both teams will play their hardest and that the day ends with a successful title defence on our part.”

Opposite number Masatada Ishii admitted some nerves at coaching Antlers to the final in his first campaign in charge, but he believes the occasion of the final will spur his players on.

“I feel a little tense when I think about playing here in Saitama Stadium with such a large crowd and a title on the line,” he said. 

“Still, I’m confident that my players will give it their all on the pitch. Our opponents Gamba Osaka are a fantastic team and I’m looking forward to facing them. 

“I think it will be a fantastic match.”

League Cup

Shoji wary of Usami-Patric threat

Kashima Antlers defender Gen Shoji has warned his team-mates that Gamba Osaka pair Takashi Usami and Patric are the most dangerous strikers in Japan.

Shoji is preparing to face the duo when their clubs take on each other in the final of the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup on Saturday, with the stopper well aware of the danger their upcoming opponents pose.

However, Shoji believes they can counter the threat if they display the right aggression on the pitch, and work on defending collectively as a side. 

“Patric and Takashi Usami are the most dangerous attacking pair in the J.League,” the 22-year-old said. 

“If they push forward aggressively like Shonan Bellmare did against us [in a 2-1 defeat] last week, you can’t be passive. 

“We want to push our line higher, but we tend to slow down so we have to be careful. All of our players, including our strikers and midfielders, have to work together. 

“If we can push our line higher, we can try to intercept more passes.”

League Cup

Finishing second for Antlers is like finishing last, says Shoji

Gen Shoji says Kashima Antlers cannot be satisfied with second place, urging his team-mates to lift the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup in Saturday’s final against Gamba Osaka.

The defender - already a pillar of the side at 22 - won his first piece of silverware at Antlers in the final of the 2012 cup, in which he started in the final against Shimizu S-Pulse.

And Shoji is hopeful his team can live up to the expectations of the club and fans again when they face off against the holders Gamba.

Gen Shoji says Kashima Antlers cannot be satisfied with second place, urging his team-mates to lift the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup in Saturday’s final against Gamba Osaka.

The defender - already a pillar of the side at 22 - won his first piece of silverware at Antlers in the final of the 2012 cup, in which he started in the final against Shimizu S-Pulse.

And Shoji is hopeful his team can live up to the expectations of the club and fans again when they face off against the holders Gamba.

“On the Tuesday of the final, [then-manage] Jorginho told me that I would be used on the left side. I couldn’t sleep well that night,” he said. 

“That was Tetsu Araiba’s position; he gave me a lot of advice and I have a lot of respect for him because of that. Recently I spoke to him on the phone and something he said struck a chord with me. 

“He told me: ‘For Kashima Antlers, finishing in second place is the same as finishing in last place’. If you don’t get the championship, it doesn’t matter. Kashima wouldn’t be Kashima without winning titles.’ 

“We’re a team that wins titles and as players we can’t forget that. We have to preserve that legacy and make people think Kashima are strong.”

Antlers have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround since Masatada Ishii took over the reins in July, and are in contention to win the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League title as well.

League Cup

Endo praises Gamba growth ahead of Nabisco Cup final

Yasuhito Endo has hailed Gamba Osaka for the growth they exhibited in their climb to the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final.

The Japanese Treble winners are back in the final of this year’s tournament – one year after they lifted the trophy – where they will face Kashima Antlers on Saturday.

And Endo has praised their commitment, believing the progress they showed as a squad en route marks this season as a success regardless of the outcome.

Even though we were without our national team representatives and our fixture schedule was very busy, we were able to play at the same level of quality,” the captain said. 

“We used a lot of our young players, but whether it’s the Cup or the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League all of our players - regulars and reserves - trained at the same level in order to raise the strength of the team, and the fact that we manage to keep our form is a big takeaway.

“We had to play home-and-away legs in the AFC Champions League and that taught to build a proper understanding amongst the players, which gave us a chance to win in the second leg. 

“These lessons learnt was the key in us reaching the [Nabisco Cup] final.”


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Endo: Gamba cannot afford to feel Nabisco Cup final pressure

Gamba Osaka captain Yasuhito Endo believes the chance to defend the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final is a unique opportunity, but urges his team-mates not to become obsessed with it.

The Japanese Treble winners will face Kashima Antlers for the trophy on Saturday on Saitama Stadium, with Kenta Hasegawa’s men looking to lift the trophy again on the way to defending their other titles.

However, despite admitting that the side naturally feels a certain amount of pressure contesting a fixture like the one ahead, Endo also stated they needed to approach the fixture with a cool head.

Of course it’s a chance to win the first big title of the year,” he said. “If you approach every match in a consistent emotional state then you’ll get results.

“I’m not saying that we won’t feel differently if we win it or don’t, but that sort of thing shouldn’t affect us as a team. I don’t think that nervousness helps me play better.

“Of course I play with the feeling of wanting to win in any match, but I also think the odds are always 50-50. If you’re not fixated on winning the title, your emotions won’t be as effected in the match itself.

“I’m excited. Any tournament final has a unique atmosphere and tension. On Saturday I want us to play like we always do, I want to play like I always do, and I want to enjoy the experience.

“We didn’t set out to win the Treble last year, we focused on playing one match at a time and we ended up at that destination. 

“Instead of saying ‘it’s the final, so we have to play our best’, I hope we can play just as we’ve played until now.”

A triumph at the weekend would see Gamba lift the Nabisco Cup for the third time in their history.

League Cup

Endo talks up Ogasawara qualities

Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo has spoken of his respect for Kashima Antlers legend Mitsuo Ogasawara ahead of Saturday’s Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final.

The former Japan national team pair will come head-to-head when their sides face off for the trophy at Saitama Stadium.

And Endo has revealed how much Antlers mirror his counterpart’s personality on the pitch, warning Gamba that Masatada Ishii’s men will provide a stern test on the day.

“Antlers may be the most tenacious and determined team in the J.League,” he said. 

“It may be because of veterans such as Ogasawara, but Antlers are traditionally a team built to win big matches like this one. 

“If it’s a big match or a championship match, that’s when they play their best. If we let them score first it will be difficult to develop our strategy, and that’s something all of our players need to understand. 

“If they score, we just have to fight back. But if we get to score on a set-play it will make things easier for us, so I hope I get a chance to take that shot.”

Following a shaky start to the season, Antlers have roared back into contention for silverware under the leadership of Ishii.

Ogasawara and co. will be looking to cement their status as the competition’s most successful outfit by taking the trophy off last season’s winners, Gamba.

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YU-KI to sing national anthem at Nabisco Cup final

The J.League on Monday announced that TRF vocalist YU-KI will sing the Japanese national anthem before the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final on October 31.


The singer is known for her work with seminal Japanese pop group TRF, who produced a string of chart-topping hits in the 1990s.

In addition to her career as a musician, YU-KI has frequently appeared in musical productions across Japan and released her first fashion book, “BE NUDE”, earlier in 2015.

Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka are the two teams that will contest the final of the trophy in the final, which kicks off at 13:05 JST at Saitama Stadium. 

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Akasaki targeting Nabisco Cup win followed by Japan call

Shuhei Akasaki has declared he intends to end his wait to lift silverware with Kashima Antlers by winning the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final against Gamba Osaka at the end of October.

The 24-year-old was speaking upon receipt of the competition’s New Hero Award, awarded to him in recognition of his two goals and two assists in the tournament which contributed to his team’s progress to the final. 

His performance in the semi-finals against Vissel Kobe drew particular acclaim from the media, leading to his victory via ballot count total.

But while the forward was happy to receive the individual prize, he hopes to soon celebrate a team victory and his first trophy at the club come the final at Saitama Stadium on October 31. 

“I’m incredibly happy to receive such a prestigious award,” Akasaki commented. “I was able to accomplish this thanks to everyone involved with the club. 

“We entered the knock-out stages [at a good time], as it was after [new manager Masatada] Ishii took over and I started to get more appearances.

“Antlers haven’t won a trophy since I joined the club, so I want to win the final and earn my first title. 

“A lot of the players who have won this award have played for the national team, so first we have to win this tournament and then I want to play again at Saitama Stadium [by earning a call-up to Vahid Halilhodzic’s Japan side].”

League Cup

Smoking prohibited after kick-off at Nabisco Cup final

Fans attending the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final will be prohibited from smoking once the game kicks off, the J.League announced on Monday.

The decision has been made in order to reduce crowding in the concourses at half time, as well as prevent non-smokers from inhaling from second-hand smoke.

Beyond the ban, which applies to all areas of the stadium at half time and immediately after full time, smoking will continue to be allowed in designated smoking areas only.

Kashima Antlers will take on holders Gamba Osaka for the trophy on October 31 at Saitama Stadium 2002.


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Several ticket types sold out for Nabisco Cup final

Tickets for several seating areas at the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final were sold out after just one day of sales, the J.League announced on Tuesday.

Buy tickets in English for the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final here

Tickets for Celebrate Seats, ’S’ Reserved Seats (Home), ‘SA’ Reserved Seats, ‘SB’ Reserved Seats, ‘SB’ Reserved Seats (Home, commemorative mini-ball included) and Family Seats are now no longer available.

Tickets for the remaining sections are available through J.League Ticket, Ticket JFA, Ticket Pia, Lawson Ticket, and e+.

Holders Gamba Osaka have the chance to defend the trophy against the challenge of Kashima Antlers on October 31 at Saitama Stadium 2002.

League Cup

Tickets sales begin for 2015 Nabisco Cup Final

The J.League on Sunday opened ticketing sales for the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Final between Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka.

The clash will take place at Saitama Stadium on October 31, with the match kicking off at 13:05 JST.

For the first time ever, fans will be able to purchase tickets to the match in English via the J.League’s official ticketing page.

Tickets range in price from 2,000 yen to 8,500 yen, and will be distributed through QR codes which can be printed and brought to the stadium on the day of the match. 

An additional service fee of 216 yen will be charged for each ticket.


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Chairman Murai promotes Nabisco Cup Final in Saitama

J.League chairman Mitsuru Murai and Saitama Governor Kiyoshi Ueda believes the prefecture can benefit from hosting the 2015 Yamazaki Nabisco Cup final.

The tournament’s final, which will again take place at Saitama Stadium 2002 on October 31, will pit Kashima Antlers against defending champions Gamba Osaka.

And Murai believes the opportunity for the region to showcase two teams playing a footballing event of such prestige can only benefit it.

“The J.League is grateful that Saitama will once again host the final of a tournament with such history,” Murai said. “We hope that many fans will come out to see some of Japan’s best players.

“We encourage them to take the opportunity to enjoy tourism within Saitama Prefecture.”

“While it’s disappointing that there won’t be a team from Saitama in the final, we’re incredibly happy to be hosting the match in Saitama Stadium for a second straight year,” Ueda added.

Tickets for the match, which began going on sale on Sunday morning, will be available through the J.League’s official homepage.

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Nabisco Cup finalists Gamba made to sweat by Albirex

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.