Kashima Antlers collected the first major silverware of the Japanese season with a 1-0 victory over relegation-embattled Urawa Reds in the final of the J-League Cup.
With both sides reduced to 10 men during a goalless 90 minutes, Yuya Osako finally broke the deadlock late in the first period of extra-time to seal a sixth major trophy in five years for a generally superior Kashima outfit.
After a cagey first half, the match suddenly turned at the start of the second when Urawa midfielder Naoki Yamada was dismissed for two quick-fire offences. Though perhaps unfortunate to receive a yellow card for his initial challenge on Toru Araiba, the 21-year-old left referee Minoru Tojo with little option after a foolish late lunge on Takeshi Aoki just three minutes later.
Oswaldo de Oliveira’s side quickly took advantage to stamp their impression on the final, introducing a third forward in Yuzo Tashiro and placing the Urawa defence under relentless pressure with a succession of chances.
Takuya Nozawa was a constant menace – denied twice by desperate blocks from defender Mizuki Hamada and goalkeeper Nobuhiro Kato, and crossing in a teasing free-kick only for Osako to head narrowly wide.
Numerical parity was restored after 80 minutes when Antlers defender Aoki picked up his second booking for an innocuous-looking challenge on Genki Haraguchi. But the red card had little impact on the overall dynamic, with Kashima continuing to force the Reds back line deep into their own half as the game entered extra-time.
They finally got their reward with a move of real attacking quality in the 105th minute. Tashiro chested down and skilfully returned the ball to Shinzo Koroki, who had continued his run into the left-hand side of the penalty area. The occasional Japan forward then rolled a perfect low cross along the Urawa six-yard line for an unmarked Osako to slot home at the far post.
The Reds had no answer, and Kashima’s victory could have been more emphatic as both Gaku Shibasaki and Koji Nakata struck the crossbar in the second extra period.