08
Dec
14

Yamazaki helps Yamagata scale J2 mountain

On Sunday I was at Ajinomoto Stadium to see Montedio Yamagata beat JEF United in the J2 Play-Off final. Here’s my match report on the game for The Japan News…

The Japan News, Monday 8th December, 2014

Montedio Yamagata secured promotion to J1 for the 2015 season on Sunday, beating JEF United Chiba 1-0 in the J2 playoff final.

Masato Yamazaki was the hero for Nobuhiro Ishizaki’s side, heading home the decisive goal of the game in the 37th minute, and condemning Chiba to a sixth straight season in the second division.

“It has been three years in J2 and has felt like a long time,” Yamazaki said after the game.

“There are other players in the squad who were relegated with me [in 2011] who haven’t been able to play so I’m glad I was able to put in this effort for them too.”

Montedio were last promoted to J1 as runners-up in the 2008 season, and against all odds survived in the top flight for three years before they were relegated.

Ordinarily they would have had to face JEF in the playoff semifinals, but with Giravanz Kitakyushu not having the requisite license for J1, Chiba, as the highest placed finisher in the playoff places, received a bye direct to the final.

That left Yamagata, which ended the regular season in sixth place, to square off against Jubilo Iwata last weekend, a match it won in dramatic fashion courtesy of an injury-time header by goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi.

This time around, Yamagishi’s duties were restricted to those between his own posts, and he pulled off several stops to ensure that he and his teammates would be playing top-flight soccer next year.

“Just my efforts alone are only very small and this achievement has been possible because of the team as a whole,” the former Urawa Reds stopper said.

Montedio Yamagata fans, Ajinomoto Stadium, Sunday 7th December, 2014

The first real scare of the game came at the other end of the pitch. After a cagey opening spell Yamagata’s Kim Byeom Yong sliced a mishit cross in from the left wing in the 22nd minute which JEF goalkeeper Shun Takagi should have been able to gather cleanly. He got his handling all wrong, though, and was relieved to see the ball drop just wide of his right-hand upright.

Three minutes later, Yamato Machida had JEF’s first clear sight on goal, but his header from a corner whistled inches wide of Yamgashi’s post.

Clear chances were few and far between in the opening period, but Yamazaki was on hand to make a breakthrough eight minutes before the break.

Masaki Miyasaka sent a cross in from the left wing and former Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Yamazaki managed to eke out a yard of space and flick a delicate header across Takagi and into the far side of the goal.

The highest placed finisher is afforded the luxury of only needing a draw to seal promotion, but JEF, as in 2012 when it fell at the same hurdle to Oita Trinita — and despite having lost only three of its league games under Takashi Sekizuka since he took over on Jul. 20 — was unable to find a riposte in the second 45 minutes.

The closest it came was when Tatsuya Yazawa caught an effort sweetly from 25 meters in the 78th minute, but Yamagishi reacted sharply and pulled off a smart save diving to his left.

JEF threw on top scorer Kempes with 13 minutes to play but the Brazilian, with 13 goals in the regular J2 season, was unable to carve out any opportunities as his side dominated possession but found Montedio resolute in defense.

Meanwhile in the J.League, the Albirex-Reysol match snowed out on Saturday was rescheduled for tonight at 7 at Kashima Stadium, Kashima, Ibaraki

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