FUKUOKA – Avispa Fukuoka defeated V-Varen Nagasaki 1-0 in the semifinals of the J1 promotion playoffs on Sunday, booking a meeting with Cerezo Osaka in the final for a place in the top flight next season.
Striker Wellington scored the only goal of the game for Fukuoka, which finished third in J2 and only needed to avoid a defeat at home against sixth-placed Kyushu neighbor Nagasaki in a one-off semifinal at Level-5 Stadium.
“We prepared well as a team, and I’m glad to show the supporters a good game,” said Wellington. “We have to keep our style in the final, we pressed well and didn’t let them (Nagasaki) play today.”
Wellington couldn’t quite connect his overhead attempt on the counter midway through the first half, moments before Hisashi Jogo hit the foot of the post after a cross from left glanced across the face of the goal.
Wellington did take his chance three minutes after the break, though, chesting a low corner before bundling home a volley for the opener, before Toshiya Suenaga, the provider for the first goal, saw a rasping 35-yard free kick fly just over past the hour mark.
V-Varen did have their chances, at least to level. South Korean Lee Yong-jae, who wasted a glorious chance steering his shot way off target right after the opener, had another effort easily stopped by Fukuoka keeper Kosuke Nakamura as Avispa closed the game out.
“Nagasaki had the least goals conceded this season and we could have gone through with a draw, but I told the players to go for a win and they showed that aggression,” said Masami Ihara, in his first year in charge as Fukuoka boss.
Under the charge of former Japan captain and defender Ihara, the second-most capped player for the national side with 122, Avispa are bidding to get back to the top flight after four years in the second tier.
In the other semifinal, Cerezo, who finished the season fourth, settled for a scoreless draw against fifth-placed Ehime FC but that was good enough for a spot in the final. They can expect some home comfort again in a week’s time at Yanmar Stadium Nagai, the venue for this year’s decider.
Cerezo were relegated last season despite having Uruguayan 2010 World Cup MVP Diego Forlan, who left for his first club Penarol in June this year, among their ranks.
“I know Cerezo are a strong side, and having to play in Osaka is something to think about, but we believe in ourselves,” said Ihara.
Both Avispa and Cerezo had the advantage of only needing a draw at home based on their higher position in the regular-season standings.
Earlier in the day, J3 runnerup Machida Zelvia came from behind to beat J2 bogey side Oita Trinita 2-1 at home in the first-leg of the J2 playoff final.
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