Soccer: Grampus down Cerezo for 1st Levain Cup title

© Kyodo News

Second-half goals from Naoki Maeda and Sho Inagaki propelled Nagoya Grampus to their first Levain Cup title on Saturday, overcoming Cerezo Osaka 2-0 in the final.

The victory at Saitama Stadium secured Nagoya their first major trophy since their sole J-League top-flight championship in 2010 and fourth overall following two Emperor's Cup wins in the 1990s.

Cerezo dominated for long stretches but could not convert chances as they failed to add to the pair of cups they won in 2017.

It was a quick rematch for the two sides after Cerezo won away at Grampus 3-0 on Wednesday in an Emperor's Cup quarterfinal when they netted twice from corners.

For Grampus, it was the last chance for silverware this season after bowing out in the last eight of both the Asian Champions League and the Emperor's Cup in the past two weeks.

"It's been a devastating period since going out of the ACL, but we fought our way through," said the man of the match Inagaki. "We persevered, and it was typical of our game pattern."

"(Cerezo) are a well-bonded team who made us struggle in the Emperor's Cup, but we stood firm and showed our mentality to bounce back."

Grampus' first chance fell to former Cerezo favorite Yoichiro Kakitani after 10 minutes, when he sent his overhead kick over the bar after a promising break down the right by Mateus.

The Brazilian winger created an opportunity seven minutes later for Maeda, who was blocked from close range before former Japan international Takashi Inui sparked Cerezo to life with a long-range shot that flew wide.

Cerezo dominated the rest of the half as Inui, back at the club this summer after 10 years in Europe, showed a good range of passes and dribbles from the left, but the men in white failed to test Nagoya keeper Mitch Langerak.

Grampus were again the sharper side at the start of the second half, and they took the lead just two minutes after the break. Yuki Soma's corner was flicked on by Kakitani at the near post before Maeda reacted well to head low into the opposite corner.

The tricky winger could have doubled the lead moments later as Grampus hit Cerezo on a counter, but his fierce effort from inside the box stung the palms of Kim Jin Hyeon for a corner.

Having brought on former Sevilla midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake at the break and veteran forward Yoshito Okubo after the opener, Cerezo had enough firepower upfront and came within inches of an equalizer.

Riku Matsuda clipped the left post with a long-range strike and moments later drove in a low ball that Okubo steered narrowly wide. They were left to rue their missed chances, as Nagoya again made their opportunities count in the 79th minute.

Substitute Jakub Swierczok was played through and forced Kim into a save, only for Inagaki to drill the rebound on a half-volley into the ground and high into the net.

Italian manager Massimo Ficcadenti had boldly brought off both wingers Maeda and Soma after only 58 minutes but Grampus, who have already set a new top-flight record of 19 clean sheets in the J1 this term, kept another clean sheet.

"I'm truly happy," said Maeda. "I haven't scored many headers, but I put my heart into it to score. It was also a huge goal for me personally. The scene here is wonderful and something I won't forget."

A total of 17,933 spectators watched live at the 63,700-seat venue, where coronavirus safety restrictions remain in place. On top of 10,000 tickets originally allocated for sale, another 10,000 were made available to fans fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or with negative test results.