Following a dramatic promotion play-offs final, Tokyo Verdy are heading back to the Meiji Yasuda J1 League for the first time in 15 seasons.
Verdy left it astonishingly late, but a penalty six minutes into stoppage time earned them a 1-1 draw with Shimizu S-Pulse and a spot in the top flight by way of the higher seed tiebreaker.
From the very beginning, this day felt like one to remember in J.League history, with a pair of Original Ten teams doing battle at the Japan National Stadium with everything on the line. The atmosphere was suitably electric, with a crowd of 53,264 clad in green and orange bringing the noise.
The first half was tense, with neither side able to make much of a dent in the other's defense, but just after the hour mark the game snapped to life.
Verdy star Koki Morita was whistled for an unlucky handball in the box and Thiago Santana stepped up to the spot to give S-Pulse the lead. His finish sent the goalkeeper the other way and the Shimizu faithful into dreamland, envisioning their return back to J1 after only one season away.
While Tokyo pushed for an equalizer, timely intervention after timely intervention kept Verdy at bay. It appeared that the hosts' long stay in the second division was going to grow by at least one more year.
However, as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, Verdy's forays into the box became more dangerous, and in the fourth minute of stoppage time they finally had their opportunity for a breakthrough when Itsuki Someno was taken down just inside the area.
The referee pointed to the spot and Verdy suddenly had a lifeline: A penalty at the death for a place in the top flight.
As far as moments go, they don't get much bigger than that, but Someno kept his nerve, confidently stepped up, and buried his shot past the diving goalkeeper to level the score.
From there, the home side held on to the 1-1 result and, by rule, won the final as the higher seed in the 2023 J.League Road to J1 Play-Offs.
The result will be especially brutal for S-Pulse fans, knowing they entered the last day of the J2 regular season in second place and occupied the division's final automatic promotion spot. Their failure to win at Mito Hollyhock in Matchweek 42 not only took them out of the automatic promotion zone, but sunk them to fourth place, just behind Verdy, which ended up being the crucial tiebreaker on Saturday.
S-Pulse's deflation is Verdy's elation, though, as the capital club are bound for the top flight for the first time since 2008.
One of Japan’s most storied clubs will be back in the big time in 2024.