Well OK, maybe not Wembley, but for an Englishman, the cup final and Wembley Stadium go hand in hand. It's hard to mention one without evoking images of the other, and as S-Pulse head into the second leg of their League Cup semi final with Gamba Osaka, S-Pa could soon be on their way to Japan's own national stadium for the first time in nearly three years!
It's going to be a long, hard 90 minutes before anything is decided though. If the first leg was anything to go by, Gamba will be physical, organised and fighting for everything in the quest to defend the title they won last year. The home leg ended 1-1, which I came away from feeling slightly hard done by, but buoyed by the fact that a score draw over 1-1 (or a win, of course) will see us through. Another 1-1 and than it's into extra time and penalties. No thanks!
As is becoming usual, we out shot our opponents and we had far more corners. The sad fact was that half the corners came from attacks which should by rights have borne better attempts on goal. Still, for long periods we run Gamba ragged, and while we rode our luck on occasion, the rampant Hara surging down the left wing helped add to the myriad chances we were crafting. Despite going close several times, even striking wood with the game's last piece of action, there was no way through. The Gamba defence collapsed with exhaustion on the whistle, but the orange ranks behind the goal didn't let up for a good five minutes more. Despite the lack of a win, there was real optimism and fight in the Nihondaira night air - just what we need to head into the 2nd leg with.
I'll be watching on Sunday, not from the Banpaku, but from the S-Pulse Dream House in Shimizu, serving those unable to head out west to Kansai of a Sunday evening. The heart is willing, but the 6am start on the Monday means a far more measured evening spent in Shizuoka is in order! Should we prevail, we'll be facing either Nagoya or Oita in the final, with that game also balanced precariously at 1-1. I can see an S-Pa Nagoya final drawing the biggest Nabisco Cup Final crowd since over 56000 crammed in in 2002 to watch Kashima dispense with Urawa. With the last four finals having only three goals to share between them, and with the last three finals seeing crowds over 10000 short of capacity, here's hoping we get to play Nagoya, fill the place up, and win 4-3 with a stoppage time winner! Not sure my heart could handle it though!
Sunday - bring it on!!
Sorry, no pics from the game as I forgot to charge my camera! I promise to snap a couple from Dream House on Sunday (if we go through!).
BARRY WRITES... I really should have thought of doing this as soon as highlights became available officially on YouTube a while back. Be...