Koki Ogawa scored from the penalty spot before Taishi Taguchi struck with a late free kick as Jubilo Iwata avoided relegation to the J-League second division with a 2-0 playoff win over Tokyo Verdy on Saturday.
Facing the drop after falling three places on the final day of the season, Jubilo took control of an at-times testy battle against J2 side Verdy, who were seeking a return to J1 for the first time since 2008.
Jubilo manager Hiroshi Nanami left experienced forward Kengo Kawamata on the bench at Yamaha Stadium as he opted to start 21-year-old Ogawa up front alongside veteran striker Yoshito Okubo.
The move paid off shortly before halftime when Ogawa won and then converted a penalty kick for Jubilo, who only needed a draw to survive the playoff.
The former Japan under-21 forward outran Verdy keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto to a through-ball and was awarded the spot kick after being brought down by the custodian. Ogawa slotted the penalty in the bottom left corner, sending Kamifukumoto in the wrong direction.
Ogawa, a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games prospect, said Jubilo were determined to bounce back from the disappointment of falling into the bottom three and subsequent playoff at the final hurdle.
«I’m really relieved,» Ogawa said. «It was difficult to prepare (for the match). More than anything, we were motivated by wanting to remain in J1.»
Kamifukumoto stopped Okubo doubling the lead with an acrobatic save in the 76th minute, deflecting the former Japan striker’s shot from just inside the area onto the crossbar.
But he was unable to prevent Taguchi scoring four minutes later with a superbly struck free kick from just outside the box.
Lining up in front of the right post, Taguchi swung the ball over the wall and inside the left upright.
After finishing sixth in J2, Verdy reached the final stage of the promotion playoffs with victories over fifth-place Omiya Ardija and third-place Yokohama FC.
Under a new format introduced this year, the teams finishing third to sixth in J2 were to meet in a playoff series culminating in a match against the 16th-ranked J1 side for a place in the first division.
But fourth-place Machida Zelvia lacked the J1 license needed for promotion and did not enter the playoffs, leaving third-place Yokohama FC with a first-round bye.
With Verdy’s loss, just two J2 teams, Matsumoto Yamaga and Oita Trinita, will move up to the first division next season, replacing relegated V-Varen Nagasaki and Kashiwa Reysol.
All — Kyodo News+