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Football: Frontale clinch back-to-back titles in anticlimactic fashion

While their traveling fans may have hoped for a more emphatic ending, Kawasaki Frontale got the result they were seeking on Saturday as they clinched back-to-back J-League championships.

Frontale lifted the silverware at Yanmar Stadium despite a 2-1 loss to Cerezo Osaka after second-place Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s title hopes ended in a 1-0 loss to Vegalta Sendai.

With two games remaining, Frontale have an insurmountable seven-point lead in the standings over Sanfrecce, who topped the table for much of the season.

Vegalta forward Naoki Ishihara dealt the final blow to his former club Sanfrecce with a 67th-minute winner at Hiroshima Big Arch.

With injured captain Yu Kobayashi watching from the sidelines, Frontale looked to have secured a 1-1 draw when Akihiro Ienaga beat Cerezo keeper Kim Jin Hyeon with a last-minute penalty.

(Yu Kobayashi holds up the championship silverware)

But Kazuya Yamamura struck back for Cerezo in injury time, forcing Frontale to put their celebrations on hold until after confirmation of the result in Hiroshima.

After news of the outcome reached the stadium, a jubilant Kobayashi addressed the Frontale fans with a megaphone.

«Back-to-back titles, we did it! To our supporters, thank you. We are indebted to you,» the 31-year-old forward said.

«We still have two games left. Let’s close out the season by winning them both. The title is coming back to Kawasaki.»

Despite dominating possession and keeping Cerezo pinned down in their own half for much of the match, Frontale were unable to break through the hosts’ defense.

Against the run of play, Kenyu Sugimoto gave Cerezo the lead 10 minutes after the break when he finished a length-of-the-field attack that started with Kim.

The South Korean custodian caught the Kawasaki defense off-guard with a long overhand throw to defender Yusuke Maruhashi on the left wing. Maruhashi sent a diagonal ball to Sugimoto, who played a one-two pass with Atomu Tanaka before beating Frontale keeper Jung Sung Ryong from inside the area.

Kim conceded the penalty in the 88th minute when he was judged to have brought down substitute forward Kei Chinen near the goal line with the ball on its way out of bounds.

(Akihiro Ienaga levels for Frontale from the penalty spot)

As Cerezo launched a last-ditch counterattack, Yamamura found the net with a deflected shot from near the penalty spot, assisted by substitute Takaki Fukumitsu.

In other first-division results Saturday, V-Varen Nagasaki will return to the second division following a 1-0 loss to visiting Yokohama F Marinos. With just 29 points, 18th-place Nagasaki are guaranteed a bottom-two finish and automatic relegation.

Last year’s Asian Champions League winners Urawa Reds kept alive their hopes of a top-three finish and a return to the tournament by beating Consadole Sapporo 2-1 at Atsubetsu Stadium. Yuki Muto scored a first-half brace for the visitors.

Sagan Tosu climbed out of the bottom three with a 0-0 draw away to Vissel Kobe, while the clash between fifth-place FC Tokyo and Jubilo Iwata at Ajinomoto also ended scoreless.

Shimizu S-Pulse remain an outside chance for a top-three finish after a 2-0 win over visiting Nagoya Grampus, who fell into the relegation playoff position.

At Panasonic Stadium, South Korean international Hwang Ui Jo bagged his 21st goal of the season as Gamba Osaka beat Shonan Bellmare 1-0.

All — Kyodo News+

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