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Sanfrecce Hiroshima retain J-League title with 2-0 win Nakamura hits rock bottom as Marinos blow title

TOKYO, Dec 7, (AFP): Sanfrecce Hiroshima retained their J-League title with a 2-0 win over Kashima Antlers as league leaders Yokohama Marinos blew their chance on the final day of the season on Saturday. Naoki Ishihara scored either side of half-time to seal Sanfrecce’s win away to Antlers, who began the day with a slim mathematical chance of claiming the title but had striker Yuya Osako sent off in first-half injury time. Marinos would have won their first championship since 2004 with a win away to Kawasaki Frontale regardless of Sanfrecce’s result, but a goal in the 54th minute from Renato gave Frontale a 1-0 victory. “Our chances of winning the title weren’t looking good but we kept believing that a miracle could happen,” said Sanfrecce midfielder Kazuyuki Morisaki.

Marinos held a four-point lead with two games of the season remaining, but missed their first chance to clinch the title with a 2-0 home loss to Albirex Niigata the previous weekend. “This is so disappointing,” said Marinos manager Yasuhiro Higuchi. “We were in a good position to win the title but it escaped our grasp.” Sanfrecce won the title for the second time having claimed their first-ever silverware last season, and became the first team to retain the J-League championship since Antlers in 2009. Frontale jumped two places to finish the season in third place, earning themselves a place in next season’s Asian Champions League alongside Sanfrecce, Marinos and the winner of the Emperor’s Cup final, to be held on January 1.

Frontale striker Yoshito Okubo claimed the golden boot as top scorer on 26 goals, the highest number since the same tally was reached in 2006. Cerezo Osaka beat Urawa Red Diamonds 5-2 to finish in fourth place, pushing Urawa into sixth one place below Antlers. Former Yugoslavia playmaker Dragan Stojkovic ended his six-year spell in charge of Nagoya Grampus, where he also spent seven years as a player, with a 2-0 loss to Albirex. Shonan Bellmare, Jubilo Iwate and Oita Trinita had already been relegated from the first division. Second division champions Gamba Osaka will take their place in the top flight along with Vissel Kobe and the winner of Sunday’s playoff final between Kyoto Sanga and Tokushima Vortis.

Former Celtic playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura said he had suffered the “worst moment” of his career after his Yokohama Marinos blew a commanding lead to miss out on the J-League title.
Nakamura, who was controversially left out of Japan’s 2002 World Cup squad and dropped to the bench in South Africa eight years later, was powerless to prevent Marinos from squandering a four-point lead with two games remaining as Sanfrecce Hiroshima swooped in to claim the trophy.
Marinos lost their final two games when victory in either would have clinched their first title since 2004, and Nakamura felt personally responsible having returned to his boyhood club in 2010 after a seven-and-a-half-year stint in Europe.

“Today was the worst moment of my career,” the 35-year-old Nakamura told reporters. “We’ve felt a lot of pressure because of the teams chasing us. I’ve been through a lot in my career, but these last two weeks have been the most difficult of all.
“As captain I felt I had to do something. I didn’t know what to do to change the atmosphere. I wasn’t just thinking about myself, but about everything else as captain. I feel exhausted.”

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