Hiroshima wins J-League after Sendai falters

Sanfrecce Hiroshima defeated Cerezo Osaka 4-1 on Saturday to win
its first J-League championship while putting an end to Vegalta
Sendai’s title hopes.

With one match left in the 2012 season, Sanfrecce has 61 points
after the win and an insurmountable four-point lead over
Vegalta.

Yojiro Takahagi, Toshihiro Aoyama and Hisato Sato scored
first-half goals to send Hiroshima on its way to the one-sided win.
Hironori Ishikawa added another after the break to widen the
lead.

”I’ve been telling my players all week to just give everything
they have for this game,” Hiroshima’s first-year manager, Hajime
Moriyasu, said. ”We were able to win because we never backed down
from a challenge and stayed positive.”

Sanfrecce had all but wrapped up the three points by the break,
starting with Takahagi’s left-footed strike in the 17th minute, the
same point at which Kim Jin-su had given Albirex the lead over
Vegalta.

Aoyama doubled Sanfrecce’s lead three minutes later on a header
and the momentum swung in Hiroshima’s favor in the 40th minute when
Cerezo went down a man after Hotaru Yamaguchi brought down Kohei
Shimizu.

Sato converted from the penalty spot to net his league-leading
22nd goal and put the result beyond doubt. After the break,
Ishikawa scored his first goal to make it 4-0 before Cerezo finally
got a consolation goal in the 61st minute when Takuma Edamura
nodded in from close range.

Sendai, a team that brought inspiration to a region still coping
with the aftermath of last year’s devastating earthquake and
tsunami, needed a win against relegation-threatened Albirex Niigata
to stay alive, but were beaten 1-0 at home before a capacity crowd
at Yurtec Stadium.

Sendai controlled the flow of play early with Shingo Akamine
hitting the post four minutes in. But South Korean defender Kim
scored in the 17th minute to give Niigata the lead.

Sendai, which finished fourth last season, had numerous chances
to score against Niigata but couldn’t find an equalizer.

”They scored early so we just tried to stay calm,” Akamine
said. ”We had so many chances so it’s disappointing not to take
advantage. Our supporters really gave us a boost all season and
it’s too bad we couldn’t come through for them.”