A long, cold winter comes to an end and, finally, there is warmth. There is a return.

Japanese football is back! And it starts with the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP 2021, between Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka, on February 20th.

The first kick-off to every season doesn’t just bring the beautiful game back to Japanese shores, but it also has a habit of giving us memorable contests full of drama and excitement.

For example, take Gamba Osaka’s most recent triumph in the competition, their 2015 victory over J1 LEAGUE runners-up Urawa Reds. After a cagey opening, Gamba Osaka poured it on to start the second half and were finally rewarded in the 68th minute when Usami put the title holders in front. Patric then clinched the trophy in stoppage time, finding the back of the net for the 2-0 victory.

Gamba Osaka was relegated from the J1 LEAGUE in 2012, promoted to the J1 LEAGUE in 2013, and won three domestic titles (J1 LEAGUE, Yamazaki Nabisco Cup and Emperor’s Cup) in 2014. After some tumultuous seasons, the winning of the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP in 2015 capped an exceptional period for the club.

On the other side of this year’s proceedings, we have an example of how the season-opening cup clash can also be a breakout show for some, like it was in 2019 for Leandro Damião. Kawasaki Frontale were coming off of back-to-back J1 LEAGUE titles when they signed Damião in the offseason, and when they sent him out on the pitch at the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP, it was a statement of intent. 

Damião proved just how much he could add to the Frontale attack with a winning goal in the 52nd minute—a tally that wrapped up the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP for Kawasaki Frontale, who would go on to take the J.LEAGUE Cup later in the year before winning the double in 2020 with Damião leading the line.

Last year’s FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP was one of the ages, too, as it pitted Yokohama F·Marinos, in search of their first-ever SUPER CUP victory after four defeats, against Vissel Kobe, who were playing for the trophy for the first time. 

The match proved to be a classic, and a back-and-forth event in every sense. Vissel Kobe scored first, only for Yokohama F. Marinos to strike back right away. Vissel Kobe took another lead, before another equalizer, and finally, they took a third lead, but Erik’s late goal sent the match to extra time and, finally, penalties. The first two penalties by each team were converted, before the goalkeepers combined to keep out an astounding nine straight spot kicks before Hotaru Yamaguchi stepped up and buried his in the seventh round of penalties to deliver Vissel Kobe the trophy and sent Yokohama F. Marinos to an agonizing fifth Super Cup defeat.

Who will win the 2021 FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP? Kawasaki Frontale are the overwhelming favorites, but Gamba Osaka want to start off their campaign with a trophy and if the history of this competition has taught us anything, it’s that the spectacular and unpredictable is always right around the corner.

Don’t forget to tune in on Saturday and remember that global fans in select markets can watch the match live on the J.LEAGUE International YouTube channel!