With six games remaining in the J. League first-division season, Kawasaki Frontale have clinched a return to the Asian Champions League.

Next on the list? An unprecedented fourth J1 title in five years.

Leandro Damiao’s goal shortly before the break and some spirited defending in the second half were enough to give Frontale a 1-0 win over Tamagawa Clasico opponent FC Tokyo on Saturday, guaranteeing the defending champion a top-two finish.

The result capped the end of a busy week that featured come-from-behind victories over Shonan Bellmare on Sunday and Vissel Kobe on Wednesday. Frontale has played five straight games on short rest since being eliminated in penalties by Ulsan Hyundai in the ACL’s round of 16 on Sept. 14.

“We’ve had a tough schedule with only two days’ rest, and I’m glad the players showed so much spirit on the field,” Kawasaki manager Toru Oniki said. “It was a difficult first half, but scoring that goal when we did changed the pace of the game.”

With Japan’s emergency and quasi-emergency measures having concluded on Thursday, Todoroki Stadium welcomed nearly 10,000 fans — 9,789, to be precise — for the first time since April.

They were treated to an entertaining game that saw Tokyo outshoot Kawasaki 18 to 7 despite a slight disadvantage in possession, with half of the visitors’ attempts on target.

“It’s disappointing,” Tokyo manager Kenta Hasegawa said. “We had more chances to score, but they were able to finish when it counted, and they stopped our chances.”

“We gave up one chance, and we have to be stronger in those situations or we won’t be able to improve our place in the standings.”

Leandro Damiao’s goal came at the start of first-half stoppage time when the Brazilian talisman darted in front of two defenders to head in a short cross from Kyohei Noborizato from the left side.

“We always create good combinations together and I’m glad I was able to help the team win the game,” said Damiao, who leads Frontale with 16 goals. “Recently I’ve had a lot of good luck and the ball has fallen to me in places where I just have to finish off the chance.”

Frontale’s first J1 clean sheet since Aug. 28 came at the expense of several chances Tokyo had to equalize in the second half.

It was the last of those chances, a Kensuke Nagai free kick that appeared to hit the arm of Frontale defender Miki Yamane, that left a poor taste in the mouths of some after referee Yudai Yamamoto declined to whistle for a handball in the penalty area.

“After watching the video, personally I think it was a handball, but of course we’re the visiting team,” Tokyo striker Diego Oliveira said. “I don’t know if we were unlucky, but I’m not sure I’m satisfied with that decision.”

The result gives Kawasaki an insurmountable 24-point lead over Vissel and a 12-point cushion over Kanagawa Derby rival Yokohama F. Marinos — both of whom have a game in hand.

A win in the next two rounds would see Frontale surpass last years’ point total of 83 after 34 games. This year’s J1 features 20 teams after relegation was suspended in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have to focus day by day and work on getting to the title in the end,” Damiao said before praising the return of larger crowds to Todoroki. “We want to celebrate with all of our fans.”

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