YOKOHAMA – Yokohama F. Marinos missed out on a place in next season’s Asian Champions League despite beating Sagan Tosu 1-0 on Saturday, as Urawa Reds claimed the qualification spot by finishing third on the final day of the J. League season.
At the other end of the table, Vissel Kobe and 2005 champions Gamba Osaka joined Consadole Sapporo in relegation to the second division, with Albirex Niigata sensationally escaping the drop with a 4-1 win over Consadole.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima wrapped up the title last weekend ahead of runnerup Vegalta Sendai, but Sagan went into the final day’s play third in the table and in prime position to grab an ACL spot in their debut campaign in the first division.
Marinos also had designs on third place along with three other teams, however, and a 53rd-minute free kick from Shunsuke Nakamura stated their case in emphatic fashion at Nissan Stadium.
But a 2-0 win for Urawa over Nagoya Grampus coupled with a 2-0 defeat for Kashiwa Reysol at Kashima Antlers punched the Saitama side’s ticket instead, leaving Marinos to settle for fourth place ahead of Sagan.
“We had something big at stake today, but unfortunately, despite the players’ efforts all season, we weren’t able to take it,” said Sagan manager Yoon Jong Hwan. “Not many people knew who Sagan Tosu were before this season, but gradually we have been able to change that.
“Some of the players were in tears after the game and it is difficult for them to take, but they have done so well to get here. I hope they use that frustration next year.”
Marinos can still qualify for the ACL by winning the Emperor’s Cup on Jan. 1, and with his team set to face Urawa in the last 16 later this month, Nakamura is looking for instant revenge.
“We were motivated to get the win at home today,” said the goalscorer. “The grass on the pitch was too long, and that made it difficult for us to play short passes. That made it all the more important to be first to any loose balls.
“Now we have the Emperor’s Cup, and we have to create an atmosphere around the club where we are able to concentrate on that.”
Marinos made the more positive start to the match, with Manabu Saito heading a Dutra cross against the post in the 18th minute before Shingo Hyodo tested goalkeeper Taku Akahoshi moments later.
Nakamura was also denied from a free kick as Marinos turned the screw, and there was further frustration when the referee awarded the home side a 44th-minute penalty only to overturn his decision after consulting with his linesman.
But Tosu’s hopes of holding out throughout the second half did not last long, with Nakamura firing off a free kick that deflected off the defensive wall to beat Akahoshi at his far corner.
“We need a little bit more to be able to win important games like this,” said Sagan striker Yohei Toyoda, whose 19 goals saw him finish the season second in the scoring charts behind Sanfrecce’s Hisato Sato on 22. “We need a bit more awareness and determination.”
Albirex began the day second from bottom having been mired in the drop zone ever since the middle of August, with Gamba one place above them and Vissel precariously occupying the final survival spot in 15th.
But Albirex, who knocked Vegalta out of the championship race with a 1-0 win last weekend, made short work of already relegated Consadole, while Gamba lost 2-1 to Jubilo Iwata and Vissel slumped 1-0 against Sanfrecce.
Gamba, Asian champions in 2008 and third in the J. League last season, have never previously been demoted. City rivals Cerezo Osaka, who were in danger of relegation going into Saturday’s games, survived with a 2-2 draw against Kawasaki Frontale.
In the day’s other action, FC Tokyo crushed Vegalta 6-2, while Shimizu S-Pulse and Omiya Ardija drew 0-0.