The final round of games for the 2014 J-League season left fans on the edges of their seats as both the champions and final relegation candidate were undecided until the final whistle blew simultaneously across nine stadiums on Saturday afternoon. Gamba Osaka held pole position to lift the title, while three points for Omiya Ardija wasn’t enough to help them escape a meeting with the second division next season.
Kashima Antlers 0-1 Sagan Tosu
An early winner by Yoshiki Takahashi gave Sagan a season-ending win over Kashima Antlers. Takahashi scored his first (and only) goal of the season when a cross from Michihiro Yasuda was laid off to the player at the edge of the box and giving him ample time to pick his spot in the corner of the net. Despite the loss, Antlers’ third place finish was good enough to confirm their first AFC Champions League appearance since 2011. Sagan, who ended the day in fourth place, dropped out of ACL contention to fifth after Kashiwa Reysol’s snow-delayed victory on Monday.
Urawa Reds 1-2 Nagoya Grampus
Needing a win in case Gamba Osaka were to stumble at the last hurdle, Urawa got off to a fine start when Tomoaki Makino rose above the scramble at the corner kick to head home an opener past Seigo Narazaki in just the second minute of the match. Nagoya began to put Urawa on their back foot and made the home crowd of 53,000 nervous when they rattled the woodwork twice in the first half.
Urawa’s were made to be punished for their profligacy when poor organisation allowed Nagoya to score from a corner kick in the 72nd minute, with Shusaku Nishikawa’s saved rebound pounced on by Yusuke Muta at the unmanned back post. Urawa’s position as league runners-up was sealed 17 minutes later when winger Kensuke Nagai finished off a counter attack against a defence caught off-guard by their desperation to attack.
Omiya Ardija 2-0 Cerezo Osaka
Goals in either half from Shin Kanazawa and Dragan Mrdja against already-relegated Cerezo Osaka were not enough to survive the drop themselves in front of a nervous 12,000 supporters at NACK5 Stadium. A wide attack was brought into the box by Slovenian striker Zlatan Ljubijankic – who will join cross-prefecture rivals Urawa Reds next season – and then squared the ball to Kanazawa for the opener in the 21st minute.
Mrdja finished a crafty counter attack five minutes after half-time, but Omiya continued to bite their nails until their relegation was confirmed after the final whistle, when Shimizu S-Pulse was confirmed to have salvaged a point from their match.
FC Tokyo 1-1 Yokohama F Marinos
Kosuke Ota’s corner kick found the head of Hideto Takahashi in the 42nd minute, but it was cancelled out in the 59th minute by Yokohama’s form striker, Sho Ito. Despite FC Tokyo creating more chances and even playing against ten men from the 77th minute when defender Yuzo Kurihara earned a second yellow card, Massimo Ficcadenti’s men were unable to edge Yokohama.
Shimizu S-Pulse 0-0 Ventforet Kofu
Needing no more than a point to guarantee safety from relegation, Shimizu S-Pulse hosted relegation survivors Ventforet Kofu in front of nearly 20,000 at Nihondaira. The tense affair generated only 14 shots between the two stands as both the Shimizu players and fans anxiously awaited the final whistle, with even the commentators suggesting the 90 minutes felt longer than usual. Relief washed over the faces of all in the stadium as the crowd erupted in celebration.
Vissel Kobe 1-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Veteran striker Yasuhito Okubo sealed his golden boot award with a brace to bring his scoring average to a goal every 1.7 games (18 goals in 32 appearances). His second goal came from a penalty that earned a red card to Shunki Takahashi in the 84th minute. Kobe substitute Yuzo Tashiro scored a consolation penalty when referee Hiroyoshi Takayama curiously deemed veteran globetrotter Junichi Inamoto had brought him down just inside the box in the final moments of the game.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-0 Vegalta Sendai
With Vegalta Sendai having already saved themselves from relegation and back-to-back champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima long-out of the title race, the two sides faced off in a snowy Edeon Stadium with nothing more than pride at stake. Yojiro Takahagi was able to capitalise Sendai’s lapses of concentration twice in just three minutes, rounding the on-rushing Kentaro Seki in the 64th minute and getting on the end of a through pass behind the stretched defence in the 67th.
Tokushima Vortis 0-0 Gamba Osaka
After a meteoric rise in the second half of the season from the relegation zone to first place, Gamba Osaka travelled to Shikoku to face rock-bottom Tokushima Vortis. Despite an early relegation and one of the worse records in J-League history with just three wins all season, Vortis played in a way that questioned why they couldn’t have performed in that way earlier in the season. Gamba fought through the plucky Vortis side, however, and news started coming through as Urawa conceded to Nagoya, giving the away crowd plenty to cheer about. At the final whistle, Gamba had earned the one point they needed to seal a miraculous title win and push towards a potential domestic treble.
Albirex Niigata 0-2 Kashiwa Reysol
With over 30 centimetres of snowfall in Niigata’s Big Swan Stadium overnight on Friday, the match between Albirex and Reysol was rescheduled for Monday evening at Kashima Soccer Stadium, where the two sides played to a meagre crowd of 2,104. Despite several attempts from both sides, the first half ended scoreless. Kazunari Ono misjudged the flight of the ball to allow Leandro one-on-one against Tatsuya Morita, with the Brazilian striker making no mistake from nine metres out. Leandro then turned provider in the final moments of the game, when he cut the ball across the face of goal to find Daisuke Suzuki after the Albirex defence was unable to clear an earlier cross.
The result saw Reysol pip Sagan Tosu on goal difference to finish in fourth place, good enough for a spot in the ACL’s third playoff round should Gamba Osaka claim the Emperor’s Cup on December 13.