Today Gamba beat Reysol 1-0 after extra time to claim their first professional era Emperor's Cup title and further cement their position as one of Japan's premier teams. The 117th minute winner was no work of art, but it was deserved. Regardless, and speaking from first hand experience, it must have a bitter pill for the thousands of yellow-clad Kashiwa fans to swallow. Their choreographed display (YES WE CAN in huge black letters against a yellow background) had be leaning their way before kick off! However, when the final whistle went and Gamba lifted the cup, the man their fans must have felt most grateful to was surely manager Akira Nishino.
The former Hitachi (Reysol's forerunners) player took over at the Kansai club in 2002, and while it took him three years to register his first silverware, he has since turned the former perennial also-rans into a real power house. Gamba has now pulled in the league title, the League Cup, the Asian Champion's League title, the Pan Pacific Championship, the Super Cup, and now the Emperor's Cup. And all this within the space of four seasons. It's a mighty impressive haul for a team who spent the lion's share of their early history scrapping around at the foot of the table.
Probably the best outcome from today's result is that Gamba gain entry into 2009's ACL - the competition they won just weeks back but were not granted the chance to defend their title. Contrast this to 2008 where the 2007 winners were dumped in at the quarter final stage, and you can well imagine how they might have felt hard done by. Well in that respect, justice has been done, so well done Gamba.
Gamba's recent ascendency as one of the country's best teams is encouraging to see, as it's not been the result of merely throwing money at the squad to buy success. They don't have the best stadium in the league (not by a long shot), nor do they have the most fans (again, not by a long shot). It's just been a good old fashioned story of a team with a good youth system, back room management which allows a coach time to build a team without panicking at the first sign of a trophy-less season, and a club which is now reaping the many benefits of their patience and hard work.
I like to think I can see some parallels between the way we as a club operate and Gamba, and I honestly believe the team Kenta is building won't take long to start bringing in some silverware. Indeed, looking at the last two occasions we've met the new Emperor's Cup holders, we've seen them off each time; 3-2 away in the league cup semi final, and 3-1 at home in the league. I'm counting the days till 2009 kicks off in March, (and you can too, with the new counter at the top of the page!) and we have good reason to steam into the future with every confidence!
Xerox Super Cup: February 28th
J.League, Matchday 1: March 7th
J.League, Matchday 34: December 5th
Nabisco Cup, Group Stage March 25th - June 13th
Nabisco Cup, Quarter Finals Legs: July 15th / July 29th
Nabisco Cup, Semi Finals Legs: September 2nd / September 6th
Nabisco Cup, Final: November 3rd
The Emperor's Cup 4th round, when J1 teams enter, is likely to be the first weekend of November if recent years are anything to go by. Don't know about you, but I can't wait!
I'll sign off with the first sunset over Shizuoka City of 2009. Happy new year to one and all - even Jubilo toe-rags! I wish you all health, wealth and fun in the coming year and season!