Ryuji Bando scored late in extra-time as Asian champions Gamba Osaka secured their place in the Asian Champions League with a 1-0 victory over Kashiwa Reysol in the Emperor's Cup final on Thursday.
Gamba were in danger of missing the continental championship after failing to finish in the top three in the J.League, but will now join league champions Kashima Antlers, Kawasaki Frontale and Nagoya Grampus as Japan's representatives in this year's competition.
The pressure was on the Osaka side, who were playing their sixth match in 19 days, and it was Reysol who went close to breaking the deadlock at Tokyo's National Stadium with a Masahiro Koga header in the 61st minute and a volley by substitute Tadanari Lee seven minutes later.
But Gamba held firm and gradually took control as the game drifted towards extra time.
With the game still scoreless in the second period of extra-time, Gamba manager Akira Nishino brought on Bando and midfielder Shu Kurata and the changes proved decisive in the 117th minute.
Kurata received the ball from Yasuhito Endo on the left of the box and fed it on to Bando, whose initial shot was blocked by a Kashiwa defender.
However, the 29-year-old got to the rebound and calmly slotted home from 12 metres to secure Gamba's first Emperor's Cup victory since the formation of the professional league in 1993.
"I'm so moved by our players and staff. They played a wonderful game," said a jubilant Nishino.
"We had a strong desire to win this tournament and qualify for the Asian Champions League. As the Asian champions, we couldn't afford to miss out on the next tournament.
"I'm satisfied with the result and would like to praise the hard work of the players who displayed their true potential," the Gamba boss added.
Bando was delighted with his first goal since March after a season plagued by injury that restricted him to appearances in only 15 J.League games.
"Since we experienced the Asian Champions League and savoured our victory there, we all wanted to get back there.
"I hadn't done much for our team in the past season, so I was just thinking about scoring a goal on Thursday. I'm so glad I responded to the expectation from our manager and would like to become a better player who can score consistently."