Soccer / J. League

Grampus come through playoff to seal return to J. League top flight

Kyodo

Nagoya Grampus withstood a wave of late pressure to secure promotion back to the J. League first division at the first time of asking on Sunday thanks to a 0-0 draw at home to Avispa Fukuoka in the playoff final.

Nagoya, which whipped JEF United Chiba 4-2 in last week’s semis, finished third in J2 this season, one place above Fukuoka. As a result of their higher finish, Grampus only needed a draw in the final to earn promotion.

“Our defenders showed tremendous focus,” said Grampus boss Yahiro Kazama. “I thought if they could keep that up then we would be home and dry.

“In the end it was a 0-0 draw but the players made a lot of chances. Looking at today’s game you can see how quickly the players have improved and they can still get better.”

With a draw no good to Fukuoka, the visitors got off to a fast start and Koji Yamase, who hit the winner in last week’s 1-0 victory over Tokyo Verdy in the semis, tested Grampus keeper Yohei Takeda with a low drive after three minutes.

Grampus thought they had taken the lead six minutes later, but Taishi Taguchi’s towering header was ruled out after semifinal hat-trick hero Robin Simovic was adjudged to have fouled Avispa keeper Rikihiro Sugiyama.

Fukuoka then came desperately close to taking the lead on 19 minutes with Yamase again in the thick of the action.

The former Urawa Reds and Yokohama F. Marinos man hit a thunderous shot against the bar. Teruhito Nakagawa was quickest to react to the rebound, but Takeda scrambled to gather in his header.

Fukuoka also had a goal disallowed, Wellington flagged for being offside by the narrowest of margins after heading in on 58 minutes.

The visitors poured forward in search of a breakthrough in the late stages, but Nagoya stood firm to grind out the result it needed.

Nagoya joins Shonan Bellmare and V-Varen Nagasaki in J1 next year after those teams took the automatic promotion spots handed to the J2’s first- and second-place teams.

The promotion format changes from next season, with the playoff final winner having to play against the 16th-placed team in J1 for the right to a place in the top flight.