|The Salad wonders to himself "How many days do we get off now..."|
Entering the final day level on points with Tokushima but with a two goal advantage in goal difference, Sapporo certainly had the harder fixture on paper, with Tokushima visiting 14th-placed Okayama, but it just wasn't the Shikoku side's day, as they had a 48th minute penalty from Takaaki Tokushige brilliantly saved onto the bar by Okayama 'keeper Hidenori Mago, and were then unfortunately picked off in second half stoppage time, losing 1-0, meaning Sapporo finished three points clear and will play in J1 next season for the first time since 2008.
At the Dome the opening half hour was fairly even as the teams felt each other out, with Daisuke Sakata (in for his first league start for us in place of Naohiro Ishikawa) failing to gel with Lucas, though the big Brazilian looked to impose himself on proceedings with a couple of shots from distance, one of them forcing Sapporo 'keeper Lee Ho Seung to tip over the bar for a corner.
The opening goal came on a Sapporo counter attack, and with our right fullback Yuhei Tokunaga caught up the pitch, a ball over the top found Hiroyuki Furuta in acres of space down their left. Furuta dribbled into box and slid the ball across the face of goal, just out of reach of Shuichi Gonda, and Uchimura slid in ahead of Masato Morishige to poke the ball home and give the rowdy home crowd the lead they craved.
Then in first half stoppage time the Hokkaidons (is that right? Hokkaidoers?!) were in dreamland after a surging run and neat ball from The Fat Man, Yusuke Kondo (recalled to the XI in place of Diogo upfront), played in Uchimura, and he fired home from inside the box for their 2nd goal, though Gonda might've done better as he was beaten at his near post.
Big Bear reacted earlier than usual to yet another lackluster first half Gasmen display by introducing Ishikawa and The Salad, Roberto Cesar, at halftime (hauling off the ineffective Sotan Tanabe and Sakata), but while both were busy they didn't have a huge impact, at least until the 66th minute, when The Salad pounced on a loose ball in the box, turned his man, but just led Lucas a little too far trying to slide him in.
Sapporo had defended well, with their 18 year old centre back Tatsuki Nara particularly impressive, but there wasn't much he could do about Yazawa's 80th minute goal. A lovely ball over the top from Naotake Hanyu picked out The Salad, the Brazilian controlled well on the run but when he tried to round Lee the 'keeper poked the ball out, but only as far as the edge of the box, where Yazawa ran onto it and lashed home.
That was about as good as it got for us though, and despite dominating possession and territory in the last 10 minutes of regulation time and all four minutes of stoppage time we were restricted to shots from distance that never threatened Lee's goal. At the fulltime whistle the Sapporo players and supporters celebrated as well they should have, while our players were warmly received by the massive away following, not our day but job very well done (for most of) this season.
So Sapporo needed it more than us, got the result they were after and join Tosu and ourselves in the top flight in 2012. Congratulations to them, and we'll see you next year!