Sanfrecce Hiroshima dramatically retained the J1 title yesterday, as Yokohama F.Marinos choked at the last. Here’s my short report on the final day’s action for The Japan News.
KAWASAKI—Yokohama F Marinos threw away the J.League Division One championship on Saturday, losing 1-0 to Kawasaki Frontale.
That defeat gifted the title to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, which beat Kashima Antlers 2-0 to become the first team since Kashima in 2009 to successfully defend its crown.
Marinos had been in the driver’s seat since Oct. 19 when they usurped Sanfrecce at the top of the table by beating them 1-0, and was four points clear in first place with just two games to go.
A win in either of those matches would have secured the title for Marinos—and even a defeat would have been enough this weekend if Sanfrecce had failed to beat Kashima—but Yasuhiro Higuchi’s men choked under the pressure, losing 2-0 at home to Albirex Niigata last Saturday and then going down to a solitary Renato strike in Kawasaki.
From the outset Frontale were the brighter of the two sides at Todoroki Stadium, and the casual observer would have been forgiven for thinking that the home side was the one within touching distance of the championship.
They had the first real attempt on goal in the 20th minute when a viciously swirling Renato freekick from the right wing struck the angle of post and bar.
Renato went close again four minutes later when Yoshito Okubo—who ended the season as top scorer in J1 with 26 goals—teed him up, but he could only whistle an effort wide of the post from the edge of the D.
Marinos’ best chance of the opening period came in the 38th minute when Manabu Saito couldn’t quite connect with a header from a Yuzo Kobayashi cross from the right.
The first half ended goalless, but over in Kashima, Sanfrecce had taken the lead courtesy of a Naoki Ishihara strike so Marinos knew they needed a goal—either of their own or from Kashima—after the break.
They certainly started the second half brighter, and Saito arced a ball through for Marquinhos in the very first minute, but the Brazilian couldn’t quite latch onto it.
Marinos were then stunned in the 54th minute as they fell behind.
Goalkeeper Tetsuya Enomoto spilled a swerving effort by Okubo, and Ryota Oshima claimed the rebound before teeing up Renato for the simplest of finishes from close range.
That blow hit Marinos for six, and they failed to fashion any real chances for the remainder of the game.
They did pile bodies into the Kawasaki box in injury time but it was too little too late, and with Ishihara having added another for Sanfrecce, the race was over.
Kawasaki’s win saw it claim the last guaranteed Asian Champions League spot, with champion Sanfrecce and runner-up Marinos taking the other two places.
Cerezo Osaka, who beat Urawa Reds 5-2, could claim the fourth and final berth if any of Yokohama, Kawasaki, or Sanfrecce win the Emperor’s Cup.