The 2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup kicks off on Wednesday, marking the 24th edition of the league’s top cup tournament.
The competition, which began as the Japan Soccer League Cup in 1976, was first held under its current name in 1992 as a “debut” for J.League clubs ahead of the inaugural 1993 season.
Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy) were the winners that year, also capturing the Cup in 1993 and 1994.
The final, scheduled for October 15, will take place at Saitama Stadium for a third straight year. In addition to a $900,000 prize, the winners will also earn the right to host the winners of the Copa Sudamericana in next year’s Suruga Bank Cup.
Defending champions Kashima Antlers, who have won the Cup a record six times, will start their campaign at home against Ventforet Kofu.
Among the teams looking to unseat them are last year’s runners up and 2014 champions Gamba Osaka, who along with Japan’s three other AFC Champions League representatives will join from the knockout stage.
As usual, the Cup will also be a chance for the league’s younger talent to establish themselves. The New Hero Award, recognising the best tournament participant under the age of 23, will be announced before the final.
Previous winners include Gamba Osaka’s Takashi Usami, Yokohama F. Marinos’ Manabu Saito and Kashima Antlers’ Mu Kanazaki.
■ 2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Group Stage
Group A: Kashima Antlers, Omiya Ardija, Shonan Bellmare, Ventforet Kofu, Jubilo Iwata, Nagoya Grampus, Vissel Kobe
Group B: Vegalta Sendai, Kashiwa Reysol, Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama F.Marinos, Albirex Niigata, Avispa Fukuoka, Sagan Tosu
Seeded to Knockout Stage: Urawa Reds, FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka, Sanfrecce Hiroshima,
■ 2016 J.League Yamazaki Nabisco Cup Schedule
Group Stage: March 23 through June 5
Quarterfinals: August 31, September 4
Semifinals: October 5, October 9
Final: October 15