East Asia Japan

Marinos Pip Frontale to J1 Title in Exciting Finale

Yokohama F. Marinos has won the 2022 J.League 1  after an exciting final day that saw them pip local rivals Kawasaki Frontale to the league trophy on Saturday. Kevin Muscat’s men won their second league title in four years after beating Vissel Kobe 3-1 at the Misaki Park Stadium in Kobe, which means that Kawasaki’s 3-2 win away at Tamagawa Clasico rivals FC Tokyo would amount to nothing.

Having followed in the footsteps of mentor Ange Postecoglou back at Melbourne Victory, Muscat once again succeeded his master at Yokohama following Ange’s appointment as Glasgow Celtic boss midway through the 2021 season. Fresh off a painful sacking at Belgium’s Sint-Truiden, Muscat was personally recommended to the Yokohama higher-ups by Ange prior to his departure and although the decision to appoint the Australian was initially met by raised eyebrows by minority shareholder City Football Group, Yokohama’s gamble paid off as Muscat and his men managed to thwart Kawasaki’s attempt in winning their third consecutive J1 title.

As he did with Victory back in the 2013 season, Muscat was given the unenviable task of filling Ange’s sizeable boots but once again the former defender did his job admirably, building upon the philosophies already implemented by Ange and adding a few personal tweaks of his own. A footballing hard man with a notorious reputation amongst English fans during his playing days, Muscat’s Yokohama side saw them pick up a few traits from his playing days – ruthless, relentless, and merciless, putting numerous defenses to the sword with an ultra-attacking approach.

Building upon the silver medal that they’ve won in the 2021 season, Yokohama dominated the league with a series of impressive performances, creating an eight-point gap between themselves and defending J1 champions Kawasaki in the process. However, with a month to go until the end of the season, Yokohama faltered, losing consecutive games against relegation battlers in Gamba Osaka and Jubilo Iwata, which reduced the gap to just two points.

A 4-1 win over 2022 AFC Champions League finalists Urawa Red Diamonds on October 29th kept Yokohama’s title chances alive, however, setting up a thrilling final day that saw both league leaders and defending champions traveling away for their last J1 games of the season. A win or a draw would suffice for Yokohama away at Vissel, while Kawasaki must grab all three points away at local rivals FC Tokyo while hoping that Yokohama would slip up at the Misaki Park Stadium.

Anderson Lopes seemingly gave Yokohama the lead in the fifth minute of their game, however the Brazilian saw his effort chalked off by VAR following a foul on Vissel goalkeeper Yuya Tsuboi in the goal’s buildup.

Things then got tense for Muscat’s men after Yasuto Wakizaka had given Kawasaki the lead in the 19th minute at the Ajinomoto Stadium, however nerves were eased after a 26th minute header from Elber broke the deadlock for Yokohama.

Disaster then struck Kawasaki three minutes after Elber’s opener, with goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong being handed a straight red card for a late tackle on FC Tokyo’s Adailton well outside the penalty area. The fact that Kawasaki were deprived of their number one goalie gave Yokohama the confidence that they needed in their game against Vissel – even after conceding a Yoshinori Muto goal just before half-time that tied the game up. A point for Yokohama would still win them the league, as Kawasaki would have to score a whopping 11 goals past FC Tokyo to pip them on goal difference.

Adailton then gave FC Tokyo the equalizer in the 47th minute before Takuma Nishimura made it 2-1 to Yokohama in the 53rd minute. Marcinho then restored parity for Kawasaki in the 61st minute before Adailton once again equalized in the 74th minute. The defending league champions then clinched their winner only a minute after Adailton’s second equalizer through an own-goal from Ryoma Watanabe…

…but by then it was too little too late for Toru Oniki’s men as Teruhito Nakagawa had scored the game-clinching goal for Yokohama in the 73rd minute of their game, ensuring that Vissel would not resist any further and guaranteeing that the 2022 J.League 1 title would be going to the Nissan Stadium.

Their 2022 triumph meant that Yokohama now has five J1 titles to their name, ensuring that they would overtake Kawasaki into 2nd in the all-time J1 winners list. Kashima Antlers, who finished this season in 4th place, remain first in the list with 8 titles to their name, while 2022 J.League Cup winners Sanfrecce Hiroshima will be joining Yokohama, Kawasaki, and shock 2022 Emperor’s Cup winners Ventforet Kofu of the J.League 2 in next season’s AFC Champions League as this season’s bronze medalists.

At the other end of the J1 table, Shizuoka Prefecture lost both of their top flight representatives in a single season as both Jubilo and Shimizu S-Pulse were relegated as the league’s bottom two teams. Newly-promoted Jubilo returned to the J2 after a year’s cameo after a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Gamba back in October 29th, while local rivals Shimizu will be joining them in the second-tier following a 4-3 defeat away at Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the final day of the season, ending a 5-year stint in the top-flight. Both Jubilo and Shimizu will be replaced by this year’s J2 champions Albirex Niigata and runners-up Yokohama FC.

Unusually, despite relegation, Shimizu had something to smile for at the end of the season after their striker Thiago Santana bagged himself this season’s Golden Boot award with 14 goals.

This season’s relegation play-off will feature 16th placed Kyoto Sanga going up against this season’s J2 fourth-placers Roasso Kumamoto. Roasso themselves are having a remarkable season – having been promoted from the J.League 3 at the end of last season, the Horses marched their way into the promotion play-offs with a 4th placed finish, before overcoming local rivals Oita Trinita and Montedio Yamagata in the ensuing play-offs by virtue of a higher league position compared to them to set-up a do-or-die tie with Kyoto on November 13th for the final spot in next season’s J1.