The penultimate round of the 2014 J-League season saw several important games play out at the top and the bottom of the table, as well as the season’s second confirmed relegation. Most eyes were firmly glued to the games involving Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds, as they watched the league leaders slip up in the final minute and drop to second place for the first time since round 18.
Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 Shimizu S-Pulse
Kashiwa Reysol gave Shimizu S-Pulse a mountain to climb in their hopes of avoiding relegation with a goal by Leandro ten minutes into the game and a brace from fellow Brazilian striker Dudu. Shun Nagasawa returned from injury to tap in a mistake by Kashiwa goalkeeper Kazushige Kirihata in the 81st minute, but it was nothing more than a consolation, leaving S-Pulse teetering just above the relegation zone.
Kawasaki Frontale 1-1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Veteran striker Yoshito Okubo reclaimed his position as the league’s outright leading goalscorer with a first half goal for Kawasaki Frontale, while an own goal later attributed to Hisato Sato levelled the scores minutes from the final whistle. The result guarantees a monetary winning for Frontale at season’s end, while back-to-back defending champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima find themselves sitting in the middle of the table.
Gamba Osaka 3-1 Vissel Kobe
Fan-favourite Takashi Usami scored a brace and provided the assist for Patric’s goal to send Gamba Osaka to the top of the J-League table on goal difference. Scoring his first from just outside the box to beat Kenta Tokushige at the far post, he then passed the ball through the defence and to Patric, who squeezed it past Tokushige at close range. With a strong 2-0 lead at halftime, Usami scored Gamba’s third and final goal just four minutes into the second half, running into the box and driving a low shot towards the far post. Vissel Kobe youth product Keijiro Ogawa scored a consolation at the 70 minute mark, but Gamba were comfortably in control and have made themselves strong favourites to win the title in next week’s final round.
Cerezo Osaka 1-4 Kashima Antlers
In their final home game of 2014, Cerezo Osaka saw their chances of staying in J1 vanish half an hour into the match when Caio found an acre of space against a ball-watching Cerezo defence to score an easy goal. More poor defending from the home side allowed a brace to Shuhei Akasaki but, moments after his second, a lapse from Antlers gave former Perth Glory winger Ryo Nagai a consolation goal. The visitors’ three points were sealed by new national team star Gaku Shibasaki in the 80th minute, when he found space to receive a ball through the defence and slide it neatly past Kim Jin-hyeon. Big-name players Diego Forlan and Cacau caught the ire of Cerezo supporters after the two were seen walking around the pitch after the game, smiling to each other despite their team’s confirmed relegation.
Sagan Tosu 1-1 Urawa Reds
Needing a win to maintain pole position into the final weekend with a fiesty Gamba Osaka nipping at their heels, Tomoya Ugajin almost gave Urawa Reds a dream start when his shot from just outside the box rattled the crossbar after just four minutes of play. Despite the vocal away supporters, Sagan Tosu slowly found momentum in the game and the ball remained mostly in their attacking half for the first 45 minutes.
The Reds came out in the second half with more attacking ferocity and created several chances, but lacked quality in finishing to make them count until Naoya Kikuchi conceded a penalty that allowed Urawa captain Yuki Abe to neatly convert. With one minute remaining in the additional four minutes given by referee Kenji Ogiya, Sagan brought forward all of their men – including goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi – into the Reds penalty area for a final corner kick. With a poorly organised defence and only Shusaku Nishikawa between the sticks, Mihailo Petrovic’s men conceded to Teruaki Kobayashi’s header that went straight into an unmanned corner of the net.
Vegalta Senda 2-1 Tokushima Vortis
Yoshiaki Ota gave Vegalta Sendai the lead after five minutes to lift themselves away from the threat of relegation against last-place Tokushima Vortis. Nearly an hour later, Naoki Sugai was on the end of some quick passing through the Vortis defence, rounding goalkeeper Toru Hasegawa before scoring Vegalta’s second goal after 58 minutes. Vortis defender Masahiro Nasukawa was able to bring the J1 debutantes within striking distance in the 77th minute when he scored from a 39-metre free kick, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the home side from earning three points and securing their spot in next season’s top flight.
Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Marinos’ Sho Ito scored the solitary goal of manager Yasuhiro Higuchi’s final home game in his tenure at the club. Albirex threatened the hosts’ defence with 20 shots and the majority of possession, while Higuchi’s ageing substitutions couldn’t provide any extra edge in attack.
Ventforet Kofu 0-0 FC Tokyo
In his first start of the 2014 season, injury-challenged FC Tokyo playmaker Yohei Kajiyama faced former manager Hiroshi Jofuku as the capital club traveled to Kofu in a quest for the points needed for a prize-winning finish. Despite edging the home side in possession, Tokyo managed to only notch up three attempts at goal and neither team was able to break the deadlock. Despite a finish in the bottom third, Jofuku will step down at season’s end a hero for having guided provincial Ventforet to another J1 season.
Nagoya Grampus 2-1 Omiya Ardija
Omiya Ardija traveled to Toyota Stadium with the aim of climbing out from the last relegation spot, but hope seemed lost when Taishi Taguchi found Kensuke Nagai with a pass through the defence to give Nagoya Grampus the lead after just six minutes. Dragan Mrdja found Koji Hashimoto shortly after the halftime break to equalise for the visitors and inch them closer to relegation safety, but ultimately Grampus won the game with a late goal as Taguchi provided for Yoshizumi Ogawa, leaving Ardija desperate for a win in their final home game to have a chance of escaping the drop.