Soccer / J. League

Verdy avoids relegation as Avispa drops

by Kumi Kinohara

Tokyo Verdy 1969 avoided relegation to Division Two after beating FC Tokyo 1-0 on Hideki Nagai’s first-half goal at Tokyo Stadium on Saturday, the final day of Division One second-stage J. League soccer action.

J-League 1st-division
GPW D L GFGAPts.Kashima 15 13 0 2 36 19 36Iwata 15 13 0 2 31 14 35Hiroshima 15 8 0 7 36 27 24Shimizu 15 9 0 6 34 27 23Ichihara 15 7 2 6 25 28 23Nagoya 15 7 1 7 27 25 22Kashiwa 15 6 3 6 29 23 21FC Tokyo 15 5 5 5 29 28 20Tokyo V 15 6 2 7 22 26 20Yokohama 15 6 3 6 19 20 19Osaka G 15 5 2 8 21 26 17Urawa 15 4 3 8 20 24 15Kobe 15 3 5 7 25 32 14Sapporo 15 4 2 9 23 29 13Fukuoka 15 4 2 9 22 31 13Osaka C 15 5 0 10 19 39 12

Verdy, on 30 points, beat out its closest J1 survival race rival Avispa Fukuoka by three points in the division’s overall standings. Going into the game, Verdy was tied with Avispa on points but had taken a slight lead thanks to more goals scored.

But Avispa, which barely avoided relegation in 1998 and ’99, failed to survive this time after bowing to Gamba Osaka 3-2 at Osaka’s Expo Memorial Stadium in a game that saw two Gamba players and one Avispa player sent off.

Another relegation-threatened team, the Yokohama F. Marinos, battled to a 1-1 draw after extra time with Vissel Kobe at Kobe Wing Stadium, a brand-new World Cup venue, to secure their J1 spot next season with 30 points.

Avispa and Cerezo Osaka, whose relegation had been decided earlier, will play in Division Two in place of the two promoted teams, Kyoto Purple Sanga and Vegalta Sendai, next season.

“It was a difficult match as I was checking the scores from the other games while giving tactical instructions to our team,” Verdy manager Yukitaka Omi said. “But we got some luck and got this outcome, so I’m pleased.”

The Verdy players put on an aggressive performance from the outset before a crowd of 36,052. That soon paid off in the 14th minute when former Brazil forward Edmundo penetrated the FC Tokyo defense with his dribbling before passing the ball to Nagai. His pass deflected off an FC Tokyo player but found Nagai up front, who fired a blast into the net.

Former Gremio player Edmundo, acquired in the hope of rescuing Verdy in late October, went on to attack hard to create more chances.

Omi said he tried not to let his players know the developments in other games at halftime to keep his players focused on their game, “But Edmundo told me he can play according to the situation and said ‘If I score a goal, we can finish this.’ I was impressed by his professional attitude.”

Edmundo said: “I’m glad that we won and secured our place for next season. All the games I’ve played were so difficult. But we’ve gotten through this situation as all of our players worked together. I have tried to encourage my teammates while showing my fighting spirit.”

After Edmundo’s arrival, Verdy won three games, drew once and lost once to wrap up the season with a 10-2-18 win-draw-loss record.

In Osaka, Gamba was down to nine men halfway through the first half after Tomohiro Katanosaka and Masao Kiba were sent off for rough play and violent conduct. Soon after that, Avispa went ahead in the 41st minute through forward Tomoji Eguchi. Gamba midfielder Yasuhito Endo equalized just before the break.

Former Romanian international Pavel Badea gave Fukuoka a 2-1 lead with a 60th-minute goal. But Avispa goalkeeper Nobuyuki Kojima was sent off after bringing down a Gamba player in the box. Endo then converted the penalty in the 75th minute before Toru Araiba struck the winner in the 84th for Gamba. The game saw 12 cards issued.