Matsumoto Yamaga tonight will realize their dream of playing in the J-League’s top division next year, as their 2-1 win away to Avispa Fukuoka saw them secure an automatic promotion spot from division two.
The game at Level-5 Stadium came to life in the second half as Takayuki Funayama scored the opener from a tight angle in the 57th minute, while Hiroki Yamamoto finished off a great counter attack in the 71st minute. Matsumoto Yamaga defender Yuki Okubo made the away fans somewhat nervous just eight minutes later when he gave away a penalty for Shunsuke Tsutsumi to convert into a chance for a comeback, but the crowd of 4,526 all breathed out at the final whistle to know that the club from Nagano Prefecture will see first division football next season.
Despite playing in Japan’s regional leagues as recently as 2009 and only entering the J-League in the 2012 season, Matsumoto Yamaga’s meteoric rise is testament to the direction of owners Alwin Sports Project, a non-profit organisation that took charge of the club’s operations in 2004 with the aim of building an “integrated sports club” for the Matsumoto region and becoming a J-League competitor.
The strong bond between community, fans, the club and its players was strengthened in 2011 by the tragic passing of former Japan national team and then-Matsumoto Yamaga defender, Naoki Matsuda. A two time member of the J-League’s Best XI team and veteran of Yokohama F. Marinos, Matsuda passed away just days after a cardiac arrest during a training session with Matsumoto Yamaga. As the final whistle blew on tonight’s action to confirm the club’s successful push for promotion, Matsuda’s former teammate and current Matsumoto Yamaga defender, Hayuma Tanaka, dropped to his knees and revealed a message on his undershirt – “Thank you Naoki Matsuda.”
In the other big game of the night, Jubilo Iwata and JEF United Chiba battled it out for a 2-2 draw, keeping the race to secure the four Promotion Playoff places tight, along with Oita Trinita and surprise package Giravanz Kitakyushu.