Vissel Kobe entered the weekend in all-important third place, but that was only on goal difference. Nagoya Grampus were even with them on points, making the race for the final guaranteed AFC Champions League place red hot, and putting the pressure on Vissel to use Saturday’s match-in-hand to put some distance between them and Nagoya.
Vissel got the job done, beating Avispa Fukuoka, 1-0, on a late Douglas goal.
That it took until late for Vissel to get their goal was a surprise. They were on the front foot from the start and Bojan Krkić nearly scored on a 10th minute scorcher from distance, but Masaaki Murakami made a good save to keep the match level. Andrés Iniesta then came inches away from scoring on the hour mark, but his shot just missed the post.
Four minutes from time, Vissel finally broke through. Ryo Hatsuse got some space down the left and clipped a high cross to the back post. Douglas skied high to get to the ball, out-leaping the defender and heading the ball down, into the back of the net for the deciding goal.
Now, Vissel hold a three-point lead on Nagoya with six matches to go. If they can hold onto that position, they will head to the AFC Champions League for the second time in club history.