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.
Only the third and last ACL spot was still up for grabs going into Saturday’s final matches, after Gamba Osaka booked their place with a 2-0 win over Yokohama FC Wednesday.
The 2020 season was marked by unprecedented challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, and saw a record-breaking march to the title by three-time champion Kawasaki Frontale. Kenyan striker Michael Olunga’s tally and “King Kazu” Miura’s endurance were among the many storylines fans enjoyed in a topsy-turvy season that ended with nobody crying about being relegated to J2, because the coronavirus effectively canceled relegation.
As for season-end comings and goings, Spaniard Miguel Angel Lotina, who is stepping down as Cerezo Osaka’s manager, will manage J1 rival Shimizu S-Pulse next season, a source tells Kyodo. Struggling S-Pulse is also set to clinch Japan goalkeeper Shuichi Gonda on a loan deal from Portuguese top-flight club Portimonense, S-Pulse sources said last week.
And it’s goodbye to former Japan forward Hisato Sato, whose 161 top-flight goals are the second-most in J. League history. He drew the curtain on his 21-year pro career on Sunday after playing the final minutes of JEF United Chiba’s 2-1 win over Giravanz Kitakyushu in the second division.
The 38-year-old goal poacher hit double figures in all but one of his 11 J1 seasons with Sanfrecce Hiroshima, which he joined in 2005. Sato netted a career-high 22 goals and was named J1 player of the year in 2012, as he led Hiroshima to their first top-flight title.