Inspired defending and a Masato Yamazaki goal were enough to give Montedio Yamagata a 1-0 win over JEF United Chiba on Saturday in the J1 Promotion Playoff Final.
The match between the J-League’s fourth- and sixth-placed teams played out in front of over 35,000 fans at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium, with the majority rooting for the nearby Chiba side.
But JEF, who have appeared in the playoff tournament every year since its inception in 2012, failed to find any rhythm against their Tohoku counterparts despite the return of former Catania man Takayuki Morimoto to the starting lineup.
37 minutes into what had until then been a scoreless deadlock, a Montedio corner kick eventually found its way to Yamazaki, who stuffed the ball into the goal from close range before running to the sideline in celebration.
JEF came out of the halftime locker room knowing that only a draw was needed to earn their long-desired return to the top flight, but they could not break down a determined Montedio defence despite the introduction of super-sub Kempes.
The hero for Montedio, if not Yamazaki, was clearly goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi. One week after his world-famous stoppage time header against Jubilo Iwata sent his side to the final, he flummoxed the JEF attack with several clutch saves. The 36-year-old spent the season on loan from Urawa Reds, but fans will surely want him to spend another season at ND Soft Stadium.
The newly-promoted side’s attention now turns to the Emperor’s Cup final, where they will attempt to stop J1 champions Gamba Osaka from achieving a historic treble. Should they do so, manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s men could find themselves rocketing from the second flight straight to their first AFC Champions League appearance.