Montedio Yamagata held off JEF United Chiba to win the J. League promotion playoff final 1-0 on Sunday at Ajinomoto Stadium, securing the third and last ticket to J1 for next season.
Masato Yamazaki’s first-half header proved to be decisive for Montedio, who had to win in order to climb back to the first division after three years in J2.
JEF, as the higher finishing team in the season (third; Montedio were sixth), only needed a draw to seal their return to the top flight for the first time since 2009.
Yamagata will join second-division champions Shonan Bellmare and runners-up Matsumoto Yamaga in J1 in 2015, when the two-stage format — plus a new championship postseason — returns.
“A number of elements come to play in football like tactics, technique, physicality, etc.,” said Montedio coach Nobuhiro Ishizaki, who has promoted a club three times during his managerial career.
“I think our strength lies in desire and a will to fight. We fought (Sagan) Tosu in the Emperor’s Cup (round of 16) and beat them in extra time, when I don’t think we were outrun.
“We probably won’t be among the most technical sides in J1, but what I can say is that our heart has become stronger than any other team.”
Ishizaki’s men hope to double the joy by beating J1 and Nabisco Cup champions Gamba Osaka in the Emperor’s Cup final on Saturday at Nissan Stadium. Yamagata advanced to the final also at JEF’s expense, winning its semifinal 3-2.
“We’ve got one big game left, the Emperor’s Cup final, so I ask all our fans to keep cheering us on and hopefully, we can come away with a great result,” said goalkeeper Norihiro Yamagishi, who produced a series of clutch saves down the stretch.
Yamagata reached the final in dramatic fashion last weekend, when Yamagishi’s injury-time header from a corner sent them past Jubilo Iwata 2-1 away.
Before a crowd of 35,504 on Sunday, the largest showing ever for a playoff game, Montedio rode that momentum into the first half, producing the better moments as they opened the scoring with eight minutes to halftime.
From the clearance of his own corner, Masaki Miyasaka crossed from the inside left channel for the heart of the area, where Yamazaki barely managed to get on the end of the ball.
The header wasn’t particularly well taken, but had enough on it to beat the outstretched arms of Shun Takagi and roll inside the right-hand post for what turned out to be the lone goal of the match.