Football Tribe SEA Editor
The conclusion of yesterday’s Matchweek 32 of the 2019 J.League 1 saw a change of leadership in the league table. It was Yokohama F. Marinos who emerged as the new pacesetters of the league after the matchweek, after their narrow 1-0 win away at Matsumoto Yamaga coupled with less-than-ideal results received by Yokohama’s closest competitors, FC Tokyo and Kashima Antlers. FC Tokyo were forced to a 1-1 draw against relegation-battling Shonan Bellmare, while Kashima were forced to a goalless stalemate by hosts Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Traveling to the Sunpro Alwin Stadium in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, Yokohama head coach Ange Postecoglou brought up his strongest squad against the relegation battlers, which included Teruhito Nakagawa, league top scorer Marcos Júnior, and on-loan Thai international Theerathon Bunmathan. And surely enough, 2 minutes into the match it was Nakagawa who broke the deadlock for Yokohama, scoring his 14th goal of the season and cementing himself as the top Japanese scorer of the league so far. Matsumoto were not without any resistance though, as they did well to defend and frustrate a dominant Yokohama side that had over 70 percent of possession. Ange’s men should’ve scored more than once, but a pair of golden chances in the 64th minute were denied by the crossbar and saved by Matsumoto goalkeeper Tatsuya Morita respectively. Nevertheless, Yokohama held on for the win and left the Sunpro Alwin with all three points. The win also ensured Yokohama a ticket to the 2020 AFC Champions League, with the Kanagawa-based club having last participated in the continental competition back in 2014.
Meanwhile, at the Ajinomoto Stadium, FC Tokyo were shocked by their faltering opponents as Shonan drew first blood in the 36th minute thanks to an effort by Tenma Matsuda that went off FC Tokyo’s Masato Morishige, though Matsuda was eventually credited with the goal. On a cold, wet, windy, and frustrating afternoon at the Ajinomoto, FC Tokyo were forced to contend with Shonan’s aggressive style of play, with the visitors trying their best to halt a rotten run of form that saw them failing to win in their last 9 games. Kenta Hasegawa’s Gasmen huffed and puffed against a combined cocktail of Shonan’s physical play and stubborn defense, adverse weather conditions, cold temperature, and less-than-ideal pitch conditions, but eventually they found the breakthrough in the 4th minute of injury time, with Morishige popping up with a half-volley of an equalizer. But it was a case of too little, too late as what supposed to be an easy game for FC Tokyo turned out to be a tough battle to avoid a humiliating home defeat, and its a disappointing case of two points lost as Shonan left the capital with what could be a valuable point in their battle against relegation.
At the Edion Stadium Hiroshima, Kashima went up against a Sanfrecce side looking to cement themselves in the top-half of the J1 table, and were frustrated severely by their sturdy defense. In the end, Go Oiwa’s men were unable to find the breakthrough against the men in purple, and left Hiroshima with a solitary point that ensured that they would still be alive in the title race.
Yokohama could secure the title as early as the next matchweek as they take on Kanagawa rivals and defending champions Kawasaki Frontale on November 30th. The fact that the match will be played at Kawasaki’s Todoroki Athletics Stadium added more to Yokohama’s motivation as they’re determined to seal the title in the defending champions’ own backyard. However they must depend on 2019 ACL finalists Urawa Red Diamonds, as should the Reds beat FC Tokyo at the Ajinomoto at the same time, the J1 title is as good as Yokohama’s. Should both Yokohama and FC Tokyo win their respective matches or Yokohama slips up against Kawasaki, the title would be decided in a winner-takes-all high-stakes match in the final matchweek, as Yokohama welcomes FC Tokyo to the Nissan Stadium on December 7th in a match that is billed as “The Big Final” by Y0kohama’s official Twitter account.
As for Kashima, the Ibaraki-based side would pip both Yokohama and FC Tokyo to the J1 title should Go Oiwa’s men win their next two matches while at the same time both Yokohama and FC Tokyo slipped up in their Matchweek 33 match and play out a draw in their titanic clash in Matchweek 34.
Yesterday’s Matchweek 32 action also saw bottom-placed Jubilo Iwata extending their slim J1 survival hopes with a dramatic win at Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, emerging out from the Sapporo Dome as 2-1 winners thanks to an injury time goal from Daigo Araki. A late goal was also involved at the IAI Stadium Nihondaira, as an 88th minute strike from Junior Dutra meant that Shimizu S-Pulse managed to salvage a point from their 1-1 draw against Oita Trinita. Vissel Kobe confirmed their survival with a 1-0 win over Cerezo Osaka in a Kansai Derby match at the Misaki Park Stadium, while Gamba Osaka bested Vegalta Sendai 2-0 in Suita. Last but not least, Nagoya Grampus and Sagan Tosu played out a goalless stalemate in Nagoya.
With both Vissel and Gamba confirming their safety and the draw between Nagoya and Sagan pretty much confirming Vegalta’s participation in next season’s J1, the threat of relegation still looms for Nagoya (12th), Urawa (13th), Sagan (14th), and Shimizu (15th). While these four sides are guaranteed to be safe from the automatic relegation spots, currently occupied by both Matsumoto (17th) and Jubilo (18th), any one of them could potentially replace Shonan (16th) in the relegation play-off zone. It’s going to be an exciting last two matchweeks in the J1, both on top of the table and on the bottom-half!
J2 League Recap: Reysol Destroyed Sorry Sanga as Yokohama FC Clinch Promotion
Today sees the conclusion of the 2019 J.League 2 season, with Yokohama FC joining 2019 J2 champions Kashiwa Reysol in the J1 next season with a routine 2-0 home win over Ehime FC. Confirmed as runners-up of the 2019 J2, Yokohama FC’s promotion meant the return of the intriguing Yokohama Derby to the top flight after a 13-year absence, with Yokohama FC set to take on Yokohama F. Marinos next season. The histories of the two clubs are tightly intertwined with Yokohama FC being formed by disgruntled Yokohama Flügels fans who were left clubless after their Flügels side were absorbed into the Yokohama Marinos setup in 1999, thus forming Yokohama F. Marinos. This exciting derby will definitely add more spice to the 2020 J1 season with fans of both teams looking forward to spectate and support the league matches between the Yokohama sides.
However Yokohama’s promotion wasn’t the highlight of the final day of the J2 – instead it was Kashiwa who once again stole headlines. Having wrapped up the league title last week, they welcome a Kyoto Sanga side looking to occupy one of the four spots in the promotion play-off zone. Kashiwa managed to pull off a win over Kyoto which effectively ended their promotion bid, but the manner of Kashiwa’s win would definitely raise a fair number of eyebrows. Kashiwa utterly demolished and destroyed Kyoto, not by one, not by two, but with a mind-blowing scoreline of 13-1! Kenyan striker Michael Olunga cemented himself as Kashiwa’s top scorer with 8 goals, while Cristiano chipped in with a hat-trick, while Matheus Savio and Yusuke Segawa completed the rout with one goal a piece.
While Nelsinho Baptista’s men had been the standout performers and the team to beat in the J2 this season, questions must be raised on how a Kyoto side that has been quite excellent this season could capitulate like that, especially with the fact that a win over Kashiwa would earn Kyoto a shot at J1 through the playoffs. Was it match-fixing? Were the Kyoto players protesting something? Will the manager burden the blame for such a performance? While the reasons behind Kyoto’s destruction will become a mystery, one thing’s for certain – Kashiwa have performed on such a level to deserve themselves a ticket back to the top flight.
Fighting it out in the J2 promotion playoffs are Omiya Ardija (3rd), Tokushima Vortis (4th), Ventforet Kofu (5th), and Montedio Yamagata (6th), while Kagoshima United (21st) could potentially join FC Gifu (22nd) in being relegated to the J3 after losing their Kyushu Derby match 2-1 away to Avispa Fukuoka. Kagoshima will be relegated if the J2-licensed Thespakusatsu Gunma finish 2nd in the J3, but would remain in the J2 if Fujieda MYFC (unlicensed for the J2) finish runners-up. Giravanz Kitakyushu (licensed for J2) are assured of a top two finish in the J3, thus they’ll replace FC Gifu in the 2020 J2 League.