Both Yokohama and Hiroshima faced teams playing for direct entry into the 2014 Asian Champions League. Worse for Yokohama was the fact that Kawasaki were local rivals and hardly the type to have their neighbours waltz off with the title on their turf (Todoroki Stadium). The home team had the J-League’s top scorer in Yoshito Okubo (26 goals), but they wouldn’t need him when some dodgy goalkeeping, and even dodgier adjudicating provided Kawasaki with the go ahead goal. Okubo’s long range drive did float a little as it came in from the keeper’s right side, but he batted away rather unconvincingly, and the ball bounced nearest to midfielder Ryota Oshima, who’s obvious handball wasn’t sighted by ageing ref Yuichi Nishimura. After that Oshima put the ball on a platter for Brazilian Renatinho and Kawasaki were away in the 53rd minute. Yokohama rarely threatened until the final five minutes when they had a glut of corners which they couldn’t convert. Manager Higuchi was quoted on J-League Official saying, “We were all looking to round off the season with the title but didn’t get it and that hurts.” While he spoke further in a consolatory manner of his players, they will rue the day they put on a lackadaisical effort at home to Niigata with the title within reach.
Hiroshima’s efforts were somewhat helped along by the cunning of 25 year old defender Tsukasa Shiotani. Hiroshima led the match 1-nil when Naoki Ishihara chipped over the keeper on the 35 minute mark. Takahagi’s side-footed through ball for the striker was superb. But entering first half stoppage time defender Shiotani dribbled out from the back with Kashima striker Yuya Osako in tow. Unfortunately it seems Osako’s fleet footed presence threw up a gust of wind, which knocked the defender off balance. The referee quickly pulled out his bright yellow card; Osako’s second yellow, and gifted Hiroshima the three points. Sadly Hiroshima’s last day heroics will be blighted by some poor adjudicating and memories of cunning. My sister once said to me the farce of soccer is that a seemingly strong, superbly balanced athlete can sometimes fall over his own feet, and at vital moments. She calls it diving; I’ve come to recognise it as one of the crafts of the game. Kudos to Shiotani for his ability to fool the officialdom.
And so Hiroshima were crowned J-League champions for the second year in a row. Hiroshima finished one point ahead of Yokohama and three ahead of Kawasaki. They will now contest the Emperor’s Cup quarter finals on December 22nd. They’re expected to get by Ventforet Kofu as are Yokohama expected to beat relegated Oita Trinita. In the other quarter finals Vegalta Sendai host FC Tokyo, while Sagan Tosu are at home to the rampant Kawasaki Frontale.
In 2014 the J-League will welcome back Gamba Osaka, Vissel Kobe and play-off winner Tokushima Vortis. Tokushima are the first team from the island of Shikoku to enter into J1. Good luck to them in 2014. Meanwhile, we bid farewell to Oita Trinita, Jubilo Iwata, and Shonan Bellmare.