Jubilo Iwata have won the J-League Cup for the second time in their history, a Ryoichi Maeda double inspiring them to a 5-3 extra time victory over Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo.
A 120-minute long battle saw eight goals, one penalty saved and the ball bouncing off the crossbar at a crucial moment in the game.
It ended 5-3 for the Shizuoka club but none of the 40,000 who gathered at the National Stadium would have imagined such a final score after the first 35 minutes.
Until then, both teams were tactically perfect, closing down every space in the middle of the park.
In the opening phase of the game, Jubilo Iwata seemed more concerned with defending and eventually earning free-kicks from advantageous positions (with Brazilian striker Gilsinho keeping himself busy falling to the floor on any contact).
On the other hand, Sanfrecce Hiroshima tried to move the ball around but couldn't find a way through midfield pairing Daisuke Nasu and Kota Ueda.
It was either going to be a mistake or moment of genius that would break the deadlock and in the 36th minute, a poor clearing by Nishikawa set up a Jubilo attack. The ball was swiftly distributed to Ryoichi Maeda, whose cross found Keisuke Funatani at the near post and he hammered home the opener.
A few minutes later, the Croatian right-winger Mihael Mikic threw Jubilo’s defense into a state of panic, sneaking through three players to finally deliver a perfect cross that was met by Tadanari Lee for Sanfrecce’s equalizer.
For the remaining few minutes of the first half tactics were replaced by old-style Japanese passion that saw players wildly running about the pitch.
The trend continued in the first minutes of the second half, as Satoru Yamagishi chested a long ball and cooly placed it past Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi to put Sanfrecce ahead.
Substitutions made by Sanfrecce boss Mihailo Petrovic and his Jubilo counterpart Masaaki Yanagishita would prove decisive, as the Croatian brought on youngster Tsubasa Yokotake for veteran Ilian Stojanov, without the desired effect.
Jubilo pressed for an equalizer but only seemed a threat from set pieces and it indeed was Maeda who was quickest one to tap home from a corner in the final minute of normal time to make it 2-2.
Early in the first extra-time, Sanfrecce's Yojiro Takahagi (chosen as the J-League Cup's best young player this season) struck the crossbar with a drive from just outside the box.
At the other end of the pitch, Minoru Suganuma and Ryohei Yamazaki delivered a double blow, netting twice in as many minutes to make it 4-2 to Jubilo.
The game was reopened in the last minute of the first-half extra-time by a powerful Tomoaki Makino free-kick, though Maeda restored his side's two-goal cushion, before Makino saw a last-gasp penalty saved by veteran goalkeeper Kawaguchi.
With 105 minutes played and the game still open, emotions were far from over in the second extra-time that saw another goal by Maeda, and a last-gasp penalty earned and taken by Makino, but gloriously saved by 35yo Kawaguchi.
It was the last play of the game, as the stadium turned into celeste and Jubilo supporters and players started their long-awaited, nonetheless deserved party: this was their first title since the 2003’s Emperor’s Cup.
An intense final saw both sides preserve their integrity; in his 'hero' interview after the match Maeda also managed to thank Sanfrecce and both set of supporters clapped hands as their opponents received medals.
The Nabisco Cup might still be shy of the great knock-out competitions played in Europe but few of those who witnessed this final, played under a beautiful Japanese autumn sky, would complain about the quality of the game and the effort by all players.
It was a great day for football and all the players deserved the tribute delivered to them.