Soccer / J. League

JEF blow chance to seal playoff spot

by Gus Fielding


JEF United Chiba squandered the chance to reach the playoffs for promotion to the J. League first division with one game of the regular season to spare on Sunday after they were held to a 1-1 draw at home to Tochigi.

A win would have guaranteed Chiba a spot in the playoffs for the second year in a row after it was beaten 1-0 in last year’s final by Oita Trinita.

Yusuke Tanaka fired Jun Suzuki’s men in front on a chilly, windy day at Fukuda Denshi Arena, but they were left to rue a number of missed opportunities after Brazilian striker Sabia equalized for Tochigi in the 53rd minute.

Gamba Osaka (86 points) and Vissel Kobe (79) have grabbed the two automatic promotion slots after one season in J2. Third-place Kyoto Sanga have 70 and have already booked their spot in the playoffs, but the three other berths are still up for grabs ahead of next weekend’s final round of fixtures.

V-Varen Nagasaki lost 1-0 at home to Matsumoto Yamaga but are in fourth place on 66, Chiba has 65 and sixth-place Tokushima Vortis, held 1-1 away to Tokyo Verdy, have 64. Matsumoto and Consadole Sapporo, 3-0 winners at Gifu, are both in with a shout with 63 points.

With JEF having a vastly superior goal difference to both Matsumoto and Sapporo, a draw next week away to bottom club Tottori will likely be enough to reach the playoffs.

JEF defender Satoshi Yamaguchi, who was a member of the squad that lost to Oita in last year’s playoff final, said, “We are lacking quality in the final third and that is why we have not won for three games. We just have to try and win our last match next week.”

Chiba came into the game on the back of consecutive defeats to Sapporo and Nagasaki but the home side needed just eight minutes to open the scoring.

Kim Hyun-hun fed Koki Yonekura on the right flank and the defender whipped in a cross for Tanaka to volley past Kunihiro Shibazaki from close range.

J2 leading scorer Kempes twice went close to doubling JEF’s lead in the first half and Shibazaki pulled off a flying save to keep out an Akihiro Hyodo free kick five minutes into the second period.

Tochigi leveled completely against the run of play, when Sabia burst into the box and swept past Masahiro Okamoto, but Chiba spurned a raft of chances to retake the lead, most notably when substitute Masaki Fukai volleyed wide in the late stages.

“We did not get the result but I thought the performance was good as we created lots of chances,” said JEF manager Suzuki. “We knew Tochigi would be dangerous on the counterattack yet that is the way we conceded. If we had taken our chances it might have been different.”