the real fa cup

The Emperor & His Cup

2011_1012Nagoya0015.JPG Nagoya Grampus 6 – 0 Suzuka Rampole
Emperor’s Cup 2nd Round

Just over 2,000 fans turned out at the Mizuho Athletics Stadium to see Nagoya Grampus begin their Emperor’s Cup campaign at the second round stage.  After J-League Cup matches against Albirex Niigata and Kashima Antlers, it was the home side’s third home game in a week, and with the potentially season defining visit of current league leaders Gamba Osaka to come on Saturday afternoon, coach Dragan Stojkovic rested most of his regular starting line-up.

Suzuka Rampole – three leagues below the reigning Japanese champions and better known as the hometown of last Sunday’s Formula One race – bussed around 200 travelling fans in from neighbouring Mie Prefecture for what would inevitably be their final game of the season. Nagoya, with Montenegro international Igor Burzanovi? supporting the 22-year-old Asian Games champion Kensuke Nagai in attack, were two goals up by the 19th minute after strikes from Burzanovi? and Koji Hashimoto.

Already toothless in attack, Suzuka’s problems became inordinately worse when forward Jumpei Yano received his second yellow card with ten minutes of the half still to play and Grampus three ahead, Burzanovic having added a third a minute earlier.  With the exception of a shot which Shinpei Sakaki blazed horizontally across stand-in Nagoya keeper Yoshinari Takagi’s goal, the away side found themselves unable to press up the pitch and largely encamped on the edge of their own 18-yard line.

2011_1012Nagoya0022.JPG In the 42nd minute, with Nagoya now finding space all over the pitch, Tatsuya Arai headed a fourth direct from a corner.  Stojkovic’s side were serenaded off the field at half time with a minute-long rendition of ‘Nagoya Grampus’ as the Suzuka fans waved their flags defiantly at the far end of the ground.

“There is always the possibility of the unexpected,” Stojkovic had said in his pre-match press conference, but the second half had the air of a procession about it. Akira Tanaka replaced Nagai in the 55th minute, and made an immediate impression when he leisurely slid past two defenders before placing his shot straight at Makoto Mizutani in the Suzuka goal.

Tanaka and Nagoya had to wait until the 80th minute before troubling the scoreboard, the big forward side-footing home after two Grampus players had worked the ball around the exposed Masanori Murata.  The left-back had better luck moments later when he headed the ball off his own line, though Nagoya scored a sixth regardless, Burzanovi?’s 88th minute shot striking a boot and trickling apologetically over the line. At the final whistle, Suzuka’s players and coaching staff were afforded a heroes’ reception by the away fans while Stojkovic stopped pacing the edge of the running track long enough to see his players bow an acknowledgement to each of the stands in turn.

2011_1012Nagoya0031.JPG Now in its 91st year, the Emperor’s Cup is Japan’s most prestigious knock-out competition, stretching to seven rounds and a New Year’s Day final.  Nagoya, two-time winners in the 1990s, go through to play J2 side Giravanz Kitakyushu in mid-November’s third round with a potential home tie against fellow title challengers Kashiwa Reysol to follow.  Despite their recent run of poor form, a league and cup double remains a tantalising possibility.

Words & Pictures: Michael Hudson
For more on Nagoya, go to Michael’s blog The Accidental Groundhopper and his Twitter feed Dolphin Hotel. Michael is also behind Viva Northern League, GrassRoots11 on Twitter.

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