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‘Keeper heads Montedio into finale

Kyodo

Goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi headed in a stoppage-time winner to send Emperor’s Cup finalists Montedio Yamagata into the playoff final for promotion to the J. League first division with a 2-1 victory away to Jubilo Iwata on Sunday.

Iwata, which finished fourth in J2 this season, only had to avoid defeat to sixth-placed Yamagata to book its spot in the Dec. 7 final against JEF United Chiba in Tokyo.

And Ryohei Yamazaki’s equalizer on the stroke of halftime looked to have done enough to ensure Iwata remained on course for a return to the top flight. But with the clock ticking down, Yamagishi came up for a corner and got his head on the end of Tatsuya Ishikawa’s cross to score the clincher in the 92nd minute.

“I knew that a draw would eliminate us and I was just thinking about what I could do to help the team win. I wasn’t really thinking anything when I went up front (for the corner),” said Yamagishi, whose goal was only the seventh by a goalkeeper in J. League competitions.

“I got my head to the ball but never thought it was going in. I never saw it hit the back of the net. It was only when I was mobbed by my teammates that I realized I had scored. This has never happened in my life. If I had gone on a (celebration) run, it would have looked cool but that is something I am not used to doing,” he added, drawing laughs from reporters.

Chiba, in the playoffs for the third year in a row, needs only a draw in the final to win promotion back to J1.

“We can’t think about what it might be like playing in J1 next season. First of all we have to beat Chiba and then we can have a think after that,” said Yamagishi.

Jubilo came into the match having won only once since October against five draws and two defeats, the last one a 2-0 reverse to Yamagata here two weeks ago, and dropped from third to fourth on the last day of the regular season.

Yamagata, meanwhile, was looking to build on their 3-2 Emperor’s Cup semifinal win over Chiba in Osaka on Wednesday.

In a tightly contested first half, Jubilo went close to drawing blood after 10 minutes, Yamazaki drawing a superb one-handed save from Yamagishi.

Iwata goalkeeper Naoki Hatta produced a crucial, if not as spectacular, stop seconds later to deny Takumi Yamada from close range, but Yamagata went in front on 26 minutes.

Yamada picked up a loose ball after a sloppy clearance from Hatta, and with the ’keeper scurrying to get back in position, delivered an inch-perfect cross from the right for Diego to head into the top corner.

It was Yamagishi who had been the busier of the two keepers in the first period, though, and the former Urawa Reds man pulled off another fine stop to swat away a deflected shot from Tomohiko Miyazaki just before the interval.

But he could do little to prevent Iwata from leveling in the third minute of added time, as Yamazaki tapped into an empty net after Miyazaki’s deflected shot.

Yamagata had a glorious chance to retake the lead on a counterattack in the 74th minute but substitute Shun Ito drove straight at Hatta after breaking into the box before the late drama unfolded.

“We conceded at the end of the first half and knew we had to keep our focus,” said Yamagata manager Nobuhiro Ishizaki. “I am sure the players were tired after Wednesday’s game but they played with a lot of heart.”

“It is not over yet though and we have a week to prepare and give third-place Chiba a game.”

Chiba finished third in the regular season and advanced directly to the final.

Under the regular playoff format, Chiba would have met the sixth-place team in the semis. But since fifth-place Giravanz Kitakyushu are unable to take part in the playoffs due to their stadium not meeting requirements to play in J1, Chiba go straight to the final by virtue of finishing highest in the table of the three teams involved.

Chiba lost 1-0 to Oita Trinita in the 2012 playoff final and were eliminated in the semis last year.