Nagoya Grampus clinched third place and an Asian Champions League playoff berth with a 1-0 win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima on Saturday, the last day of the J. League top flight season.
Naoki Maeda struck the winner in the 86th minute of a closely fought battle at Toyota Stadium where each team had just two shots on target.
Massimo Ficcadenti’s squad ended the season on a six-match unbeaten run to edge Cerezo Osaka and Kashima Antlers in the race for third and a place in the ACL playoffs.
Nagoya started the day a point ahead of fourth-place Cerezo and two clear of fifth-place Antlers, who both stayed put in the standings after drawing 1-1 in their final match at Kashima Stadium.
Hiroshima almost took the lead in the 32nd minute when Douglas Vieira’s header struck the crossbar from a corner kick.
Grampus ‘keeper Mitch Langerak kept his side level late in the half with a diving save to deny Hayao Kawabe.
Nagoya found the winner after working the ball from the left touchline to the top of the box, where Ryogo Yamasaki laid off to Maeda for a stunning left-footed strike that flew into the top-left corner.
“I’m glad to have contributed the winning goal. Even when the team has been winning, I’ve felt frustrated by my own lack of contribution,” said Maeda, who finished the season with six goals, four of which came in a 6-2 rout of Urawa Reds on Aug. 8.
“From here, we want to make sure we win our ACL playoff and advance to the tournament.”
This year’s result marks a change in fortunes for Nagoya, which finished 13th last season and made its most recent trip to the ACL in 2012.
Hiroshima, meanwhile, lost its last two games to finish eighth.
At Kashima Stadium, Everaldo equalized for Antlers in the 90th minute, seven minutes after Riku Matsuda had given Cerezo the lead.
Elsewhere in the first division, Kawasaki Frontale stalwart Akihiro Ienaga struck twice in the second half as this year’s J1 champions came back to beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-2 at Sankyo Frontier Stadium.
Kenyan striker Michael Olunga extended his league-best tally to 28 goals after netting the opener for Kashiwa, whiched finished seventh in its first season following promotion back to the top flight.
Gamba Osaka, who wrapped up second place in midweek, lost 2-0 to visiting Shimizu S-Pulse, who climbed one spot to 16th.
At Ajinomoto Stadium, Joan Oumari scored in the 85th minute to give sixth-place FC Tokyo a 1-0 win against Vissel Kobe, who finished a disappointing 14th after parting ways with German manager Thorsten Fink in late September.
Fifteenth-place Yokohama FC ended their first season back in the top flight on a high note, with a 3-1 derby win over 2019 champions Yokohama F Marinos, who finished ninth.
Forward Kazuyoshi Miura, 53, extended his record as the oldest-ever player in a J1 match after appearing as a 90th-minute substitute for Yokohama FC.
Consadole Sapporo climbed to 12th with a 2-0 win away against eighth-place Urawa Reds, while Sagan Tosu also moved up, finishing 13th after a 2-2 draw against 11th-place Oita Trinita at Ekimae Real Estate Stadium.
Vegalta Sendai remained winless at home in outgoing manager Takashi Kiyama’s last game, dropping one spot to 17th following a scoreless draw with Shonan Bellmare, who fell to last place.
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