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Kyoto books place in J1 playoff final

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Kyoto Sanga got the result they needed to advance to the playoff final for promotion to the J. League first division after a 0-0 draw at home to V-Varen Nagasaki on Sunday.

Kyoto, who finished third in J2 this season, only had to avoid defeat to sixth-placed Nagasaki to book their spot in the Dec. 8 final at Tokyo’s National Stadium.

Although there were a few scares in the second half, Takeshi Oki’s side, aided by a fine performance in goal from Oh Seung-hoon, held on to set up a meeting with fourth-placed Tokushima Vortis, who drew 1-1 with last year’s beaten playoff finalists JEF United Chiba.

“Today’s game is over but it is still only halftime,” said Oki. “We were playing against an excellent team in Nagasaki. We didn’t beat them but we defended ever so well.”

“I’m not particularly pleased that it finished 0-0. I wanted us to score goals (but) we can take confidence from this and will do our best in the second half,” he said, referring to the final.

Kyoto are looking to return to the top flight for the first time since being relegated in 2010. Tokushima have never played in the first division.

Under the system introduced last term, the team with the higher finish in the regular-season standings only needed a draw to advance to the final. The same rule applies in the final to win promotion.

Kyoto also finished third in the table last year before being hammered 4-0 at home to Oita Tinita in the playoff semis.

Their form dipped in the final weeks of the season, losing their last three games after an eight-match unbeaten run that included six wins.

And they never really got going in a turgid first half at Nishikyogoku Stadium, Nagasaki keeper Junki Kanayama getting down to save a header from Michitaka Akimoto.

Dozens of Nagasaki’s traveling fans had arrived in the old Japanese capital in Santa Claus costumes, but their players failed to provide any festive cheer in the opening period, Hiroaki Okuno’s 28th-minute shot on the turn flying well wide of the mark.

Nagasaki looked the livelier of the teams in the second period and Daisuke Fujii nearly broke the deadlock on 74 minutes with a header that Oh did well to turn behind for a corner.

Akimoto then had a shot blocked as the visitors increased the pressure and Oh was again forced into a smart save from Daisuke Kanzaki with seven minutes left.

“The outfield players did their best and I am full of gratitude to them,” said Oh. “I’m glad I was able to stay focused and play well. Now we want to put a smile on our fans’ faces by going and winning the final.”

Nagasaki manager and former Japan striker Takuya Takagi, who has done a fine job to get Nagasaki to the playoffs in their first season in J2, had nothing but praise for his players.

“The players have done a fantastic job over the course of the season and they gave me everything they had today, but at the end of the day Kyoto, in typical fashion, toughed it out when it mattered.”

“I think they made the most of the experience they had after losing to Oita in the playoffs last year.”