2022-23 WE LEAGUE CUP Final ～EMPOWERMENT MATCH～
Saturday, 1st October AJINOMOTO FIELD NISHIGAOKA
The Finals of the 2022-23 WE LEAGUE CUP between MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES and NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA was a match worthy to be the final match determining the Champions of the tournament.
The whistle blew for kick-off at Ajinomoto Field Nishigaoka in Tokyo, with 3,546 excited spectators watching.
Both teams started well with their solid defensive lines and efficient passing up front, but it was MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES who controlled the game first, with midfielders including Hikaru NAOTMOTO, Kozue ANDO, Hanae SHIBATA, Yuzuho SHIOKOSHI and Kiko SEIKE moving the ball smoothly in the centre before sending it forward to Yuika SUGASAWA for chances to score. NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA, however, was also quick to pull-back and defend.
In the 16th minute, SEIKE seemed to break through on the right side, sprinting with the ball, but defender Azusa IWASHIMIZU of NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA shielded well making it difficult for SEIKE to cross the ball. The crowd cheered for the exciting one-on-one matchup.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 25th minutes when the cross ball played from the right side by forward player, Aoba FUJINO of NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA, was deflected by midfielder Nanami KITAMURA of the opposing team, and Riko UEKI, who ran into the middle, met the ball with a diving header. The ball initially bounced off the crossbar, but UEKI headed it home for the first goal of the match.
Then, just 4 minutes later, FUJINO pressed from high to win the ball, and quickly made a short counterattack , playing the ball to UEKI, who then scored again and extended the lead to two goals. NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA made the most of the few chances they had and rapidly seized momentum to turn the tide.
Looking for an opening to respond, MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES became more aggressive on the attack with defender Mayu SASAKI and defensive midfielder SHIBATA also joining, looking for opportunities at set pieces. However, goalkeeper Ayano KUROSAWA, who made her first appearance for NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA, made a brilliant save and ensured not to allow any goals.
In the second half, both teams continued to play evenly, and in the 50th minute, midfielder Kokona IWASAKI of NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA struck the ball with her left foot in the penalty box, but was parried by goalkeeper Shiori FUKUDA of MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES who made a fine save and did not to allow the goal. Then, just two minutes later, KUROSAWA parried the volley shot by NAOMOTO. In the 67th and 68th minutes, NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA gained momentum with shots by UEKI and defender Asato MIYAGAWA, and scored the third goal in the 72th minute after a free kick. Defender Tomoko MURAMATSU on the right side played a cross, which went over the head of goalkeeper FUKUDA and found the back of the net. Considering the time remaining, this goal could have been the game decider. However, as SUGASAWA later said, “I thought if we scored a goal, it would set the pace for us.”
From there, MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES began responding on the counter. As Manager Naoki KUSUNOSE late explained how, “We wanted a goal so badly,” he changed the formation by moving SEIKE up front, to tie-up with SUGASAWA. This solution, which had produced numerous results in the past, proved its effectiveness in the 75th minutes.
SEIKE received a pass on the left side of the opponent’s half and dribbled hard towards the goal, breaking through the line of defenders, and finding the net with her right foot.
“I truly felt the atmosphere of our supporters (who were behind the goal) who would not let us give up so easily, and I felt like I was being incited to take the shot,” said SEIKE in her post-match interview.
With this goal, MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES’s switch turned on, and just one minute later, defender Rion ISHIKAWA headed the ball from a corner kick, which bounced off the crossbar. SHIOKOSHI met the rebound and looked to score with her right foot, however NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA who were determined to keep the ball out, managed to block SHIOKOSHI’s shot. Then ANDO responded to the clearance ball and fired it into the net to quickly close the gap to one goal.
NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA responded by substituting midfielder Momoka KINOSHITA and forward Yuzuki YAMAMOTO, but MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES’s momentum could not be stopped. In the 83rd minute, the goal-line scramble in the penalty box resulted in a handball by NIPPON TV TOKYO VERDY BELEZA, which gave MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS a penalty kick. SUGASAWA stepped forward to take the shot and calmly converted the penalty to level the score with only 9 minutes remaining on the clock.
The match ended 3-3 and went into a penalty shootout to decide the winner. MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES successfully converted all four of their penalties, with goalkeeper FUKUDA making one save, and winning the penalty shootout 4-2.
Both teams produced many goals but it was MITSUBISHI HEAVY INDUSTRIES URAWA REDS LADIES who won this tight match and became the First WE LEAGUE CUP Champions.
The rivalry between the two teams will likely also draw much attention in the title race in the upcoming season of the WE LEAGUE. Furthermore, a total of 8 players from the two teams have been selected for Nadeshiko Japan’s (Japan Women’s National Team) International Friendly Match on October 6th and 9th.
The 2022-23 WE LEAGUE CUP has been played out in various locations around the county. As an exciting three-week tournament comes to a close, the 2022-23 Yogibo WE LEAGUE season will start on 22nd October.
Stay tuned for the second year of the WE LEAGUE!
Reported by Kei Matsubara