HIROSHIMA – Sanfrecce Hiroshima won their first J. League title on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Cerezo Osaka, coupled by second-place Vegalta Sendai’s 1-0 defeat at home to relegation-threatened Albirex Niigata.
With one match left in the 2012 season, Sanfrecce have 61 points after the win and an insurmountable four-point lead over Vegalta.
After firing blanks in a 2-0 defeat at Urawa Reds last weekend, goals from Yojiro Takahagi, Toshihiro Aoyama, captain Hisato Sato and Hironori Ishikawa sent Hajime Moriyasu’s side to victory — and the club’s elusive first piece of silverware.
“We have endured some hard seasons and haven’t always played the type of soccer that people can enjoy watching,” Sato said on the field after the game. “This has happened because of all the fans that came to the stadium and watched us on television.”
Sanfrecce won the 1994 first stage, but never the season title. After Nagoya Grampus in 2010, they are only the second club to capture the crown before the final weekend since the J. League abolished the two-stage system in 2005.
Hiroshima, part of the league’s Original Ten in 1993, qualified for the Club World Cup as the host country’s team, and will face New Zealand’s Auckland City in the opening match on Dec. 6 in Yokohama.
“I’ve been telling the boys all week to just give everything they have for this game,” former Japan defender Moriyasu said. “We were able to win because we never backed down from a challenge and stayed positive.
“This title doesn’t just belong to Sanfrecce but to anyone and everyone who supported our team. They deserve a pat on the back as well.”
Moriyasu dedicated the triumph to his predecessor, current Urawa Reds coach Mihailo Petrovic, who laid the foundations of the club over six years through 2011.
“I took over for a great manager and I admit there was some pressure following in his footsteps,” Moriyasu said. “Mihailo built the base of the team, so this one is for him.”
Sanfrecce all but had the three points in the bag after one half, erupting for three goals starting with Takahagi’s left-footed strike in the 17th minute — just as news spread around the stadium that Kim Jin Su had put Albirex in front in Sendai.
Aoyama doubled the hosts’ lead three minutes later, pouncing on a header by Ishikawa from the edge of the box for his second goal of the campaign.
The game completely swung in Hiroshima’s favor in the 40th minute, when Cerezo went down a man.
Takahaghi put Kohei Shimizu through with a ball down the left, and Hotaru Yamaguchi made enough contact with the Sanfrecce midfielder to bring him down as referee Masaaki Iemoto pointed to the spot — and whipped out a red card for the Cerezo man.
Sato converted with authority to net his league-leading 22nd goal, giving Hiroshima a comfortable three-goal cushion.
After the recess, Moriyasu’s men picked up right where they left off in the opening half as Ishikawa struck his first career goal to make it 4-0, a stinging effort off the hands of keeper Kim Jin Hyeon that hit the back of the net.
Cerezo, who threatened just once before the break through a Tomonobu Yokoyama header saved by national team backup Shusaku Nishikawa, finally got on the scoresheet a minute past the hour when Takuma Edamura nodded in from close range.
But that was about all the noise heard from Cerezo, who remain in danger of relegation with an unconvincing performance ahead of the final weekend.