YOKOHAMA – Yoshihito Fujita struck twice against his old club as JEF United Chiba moved onto the brink of returning to the top flight with a comfortable 4-0 win away to Yokohama FC in the J. League promotion playoff semifinals on Sunday.
Chiba now only needs a draw in Friday’s final against Oita Trinita — who beat Kyoto Sanga by the same score with all four goals coming from Yasuhito Morishima in the day’s other semi — to secure a place in J1 for the first time since being relegated in 2009.
“It’s a complicated playoff system. We knew we had to win but could not go all out for it from the start and risking conceding. The players were calm and carried out the game plan well. It was perfect,” said Chiba manager Takashi Kiyama.
Under the new playoff system introduced this term, the team with the higher finish only needed a draw to advance to the final at National Stadium. The same rule applies in the final to win promotion.
Kyoto finished third in J2, having had the second automatic spot swiped from under its nose by Shonan Bellmare on the final day of the season. Yokohama was fourth and Chiba and Oita fifth and sixth, respectively.
Ventforet Kofu were promoted as champions.
“Knowing that we could not get promoted automatically, we had a week longer than Yokohama to prepare ourselves for the playoffs so it must have been harder for them,” Kiyama said.
“It sounds strange to say we were lucky in that sense. In any event the hard part from a psychological standpoint is over. Now we want to make it consecutive wins in the final.”
Yokohama had a couple of half chances early on, Tetsuya Okubo firing over following a quickly taken free kick, but JEF were more threatening going forward and Junnosuke Schneider did well to push away a stinging effort from Koki Yonekura in the 11th minute.
Schneider was again called upon to deny Keiji Watanabe and the Yokohama goalkeeper will probably feel a sense of injustice as Chiba broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the interval.
Fujita sprung the offside trap and raced onto a through-pass from Yuto Sato. The 29-year-old striker got a crucial touch with what appeared to be his hand ahead of Schneider before rolling the ball home from the edge of area.
Schneider and his teammates appealed furiously but had their claims ignored by referee Nobutsugu Murakami.
“I can’t really say if it was handball or not but a goal is a goal, and they all count don’t they,” a grinning Fujita said.
Chiba was good value for its lead but the visitors were given a scare on the stroke of halftime when goalkeeper Masahiro Okamoto fumbled a shot from Shinichi Terada before gathering at the second attempt.
Eight minutes into the second half Chiba grabbed an all-important second, Yonekura latching onto a long ball and smashing through Schneider’s legs to spark delirious scenes among the army of yellow-shirted fans behind the goal.
Fujita put JEF out of sight with his second just before the hour mark, finishing a one-two with Akihiro Hyodo with a blistering strike. Kentaro Sato rifled home the fourth two minutes from time.
“It doesn’t matter who we are playing in the final. We just have to concentrate on ourselves,” said Fujita. “We might only need a draw in the final but I don’t really think we should look at that as an advantage.
“We will only be able to say this has been a good season if we win the next game. This will all mean nothing if we don’t get promoted.”