Following the end of the J1 season, Omiya Ardija returned to action against Nagoya Grampus 8 at Shimizu S-Pulse's Nihondaira Stadium on a windy Saturday afternoon, both teams having squeezed past lower division opposition in the last round of the competition. But since Omiya beat Kyoto and Nagoya overcame JFL side Alo's Hokuriku, the league campaign finished with Ardija and Grampus making sure of their top flight status and the two squads could be expected to approach the match in confident enough mood.
Returning to the first team, Tomoyasu Ando
The Squirrels lined up with Tomoyasu Ando making a rare appearance in goal in place of Hiroki Aratani, while Toninho partnered Jun Marques Davidson in central midfield supporting a front pair of Naoto Sakurai and Hiroshi Morita. It was Omiya who started the brighter of the two sides, Chikara Fujimoto immediately looking dangerous with his passing, touch and quick thinking; but problems were also caused for the Nagoya back four by the overlapping pair of Takuro Nishimura and Kazuyoshi Mikami.
Nishimura came closest to scoring early on, as he combined with Morita but Eiji Kawashima in the Nagoya goal was able to make the save. But Ardija remained in control of the game, Daisuke Tomita going close with a header from Fujimoto's fifteenth-minute corner and Sakurai's follow-up being cleared off the line. Grampus, meanwhile, appeared to offer little in the way of attacking threat beyond the occasional counter in what turned into a quiet first period.
After the interval, Omiya continued their positive play, using space in the midfield well and creating a number of chances that nevertheless went begging, Nishimura and Fujimoto both very near to getting their names on the scoresheet. The match remained at 0-0, though, and Omiya had nothing to show for their dominance as Nagoya started to move into the game more.
Keisuke Honda forced a fine save from Ando ten minutes into the second half and Squirrels coach Toshiya Miura made a tactical change shortly afterwards when he threw on Masato Saito for Marques, in an attempt to help Omiya to retain possession for longer periods and inject some leadership and experience into the key central area of the team. A sense of balance and composure seemed to return to the Ardija play, but although Morita and Toninho had further opportunities to score, the scoreline remained 0-0 at full time.
Naoto Sakurai gets a shot in early in the second half
And Miura played a positive card during the brief break before extra time started, withdrawing Mikami in favour of striker Satoshi Yokoyama. Play in the last thirty minutes moved rapidly from end to end but it was Omiya who deservedly made the breakthrough with just a couple of minutes remaining of the first period, when Sakurai dribbled into the box and crossed from the right for Fujimoto to dive and head home.
Just when it seemed that the Squirrels had done enough to earn their first-ever place in the last eight of the Emperor's Cup, Naoshi Nakamura seconds later took advantage of slack defending from a Nagoya corner to make it one apiece - and it appeared as if a penalty shoot-out was to be the only way to separate the teams. Six minutes into the second period of extra time, however, substitute Yosuke Kataoka played the ball in for Toninho to send in a beautifully accurate header and grab a winner for Ardija, sending then through to face Kashima Antlers in two weeks' time.
Toninho heads Omiya into the last eight
"We've reached the quarter finals and that's something the club has never done before, so the players can be proud of that," said coach Miura afterwards. "I thought we imposed ourselves on the game, knowing that a draw wasn't good enough and the game was there to be won. We did pretty well in the first half but I decided to out on Saito to add a bit of stability when Nagoya seemed to be getting more into the match. The first goal was a great bit of skill from Sakurai, but we went to sleep a little bit for the equaliser. I was very pleased with the winner because that was really what we deserved from the match today."
Chikara Fujimoto celebrates putting the Squirrels 1-0 ahead
"I got pretty tired over the course of 120 minutes," acknowledged Chikara Fujimoto, "but we never really thought we'd lose the game, knowing that if we could keep up the attacks, the goals would come. Kashima will probably start the quarter final as favourites, but we're a motivated side, looking to win the game and anything can happen on the day. There'll be a quieter two weeks of preparation beforehand, but we can recharge our batteries and go into that match refreshed and with no injuries."