Urawa Reds wrapped up the MEIJI YASUDA J1 League first stage title on Saturday after a 1-1 draw at Vissel Kobe and Gamba Osaka’s concurrent failure to beat Vegalta Sendai.
Mihailo Petrovic’s men knew they could lift the prize on matchday 16 and secure a place in the championship playoff in November, with the league leaders grabbing an opener inside the first half hour to take the pressure off.
Tsukasa Umesaki finished off an excellent team move down the flank and putting the initiative firmly in his team’s hands, ensuring Kazuma Watanabe’s 84th minute equaliser for Vissel was eventually inconsequential as the Reds lifted their first piece of silverware this season.
Nevertheless, a Gamba win against Vegalta would have postponed their rivals’ celebrations another week and it appeared to be heading for exactly that as Yasuyuki Konno scored in the first half of their game to keep the champions’ first stage title hopes alive.
But Hiroaki Okuno’s leveller from a set-piece situation inadvertently extinguished their hosts’ hopes, and allowed the Reds to cap off an excellent campaign so far with the first stage crown.
The result pushes Gamba down to fourth, Sanfrecce Hiroshima retaining second and stating their intent to challenge when the second stage begins on 11th July by putting five past Montedio Yamagata.
Hisato Sato netted a hat-trick - one goal via an excellent volley on the turn - as Montedio were buried by a four-goal avalanche within the first 40 minutes; Yuki Nakashima’s strike later counting as scant consolation.
FC Tokyo pipped Gamba to third following a comeback 2-1 win at Sagan Tosu, with Shoya Nakajima producing an excellent right-footed curler to cancel out Kim Min Woo’s opener before Masato Morishige made all three points safe.
Yokohama F.Marinos have enjoyed an excellent season to date but were brought back down to a earth in a 3-0 defeat to Kashima Antlers at Nissan Stadium.
Goals from Caio, Shoma Doi and Shuhei Akasaki proved a strong statement that Toninho Cerezo’s embattled outfit, who move to seventh on 22 points, intend to bounce back from their struggles in the second stage of the league.
In the bottom ranks, Albirex Niigata moved off the bottom by storming to a 3-1 win in the second half after initially going a goal down against Shonan Bellmare.
In their place, Shimizu S-Pulse dropped last following their 2-0 defeat to resurgent Ventforet Kofu, the latter storming up to 12th after Takayuki Fukumura’s own goal and Junya Ito’s second half strike. Kashiwa Reysol find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, kept just above the bottom three by a matter of goal difference after 1-0 defeat at Nagoya Grampus.
A solitary point and place above the present AFC Champions League quarter-finalists is Matsumoto Yamaga, who fell 2-0 to Kawasaki Frontale with the latter’s Brazilian pair of Renato and Elsinho striking either side of the break.