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HIRATSUKA, Kanagawa Prefecture – Tokushima Vortis on Saturday took the J. League first division’s three-way battle to avoid relegation to the final day after a Takeru Kishimoto second-half goal secured a 1-0 win over direct rivals Shonan Bellmare.
Shonan, whose 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder Riuler de Oliveira died of acute cardiac failure this past week, could have confirmed their place in the top flight next year with a home win but both sides are now level on 36 points with one game each to play.
The third side in the race, Shimizu S-Pulse, moved up to 39 points thanks to Keita Nakamura’s 93rd-minute screamer in a 1-0 away win over Urawa Reds.
The three sides will hope to avoid becoming the last J1 club to drop, with three of the four sides relegated to J2 — Oita Trinita, Vegalta Sendai and Yokohama FC — already confirmed.
“We had devastating news this week,” Shonan manager Satoshi Yamaguchi said during a season-closing ceremony following their final home fixture. “Please forgive our players today. We have one important game left to play.”
A moment of silence was observed for Oliveira at Lemon Gas Stadium Hiratsuka and all other venues across Japan before the start of the match.
In a tightly contested first half, Shonan forward Wellington was first to test the goal as his effort from the edge of the box forced a 34th-minute diving save from Tokushima keeper Naoto Kamifukumoto.
Striker Yuki Kakita’s powerful dribbling was Tokushima’s main threat, but the visitors’ 66th-minute winner came from a well-worked corner as Ken Iwao deceived Shonan by lining the ball to the far post.
Unmarked Taisei Miyashiro had his volley saved on the line by Japan’s Tokyo Olympic keeper Kosei Tani, and despite being pulled back by his shirt, Kishimoto managed to bundle home the rebound.
“I just believed the ball would drop into my path. My willpower got it over the line,” said Kishimoto. “We kept our composure and managed to play as usual. We’ll give our all to win and secure safety (next week).”
At the top end of the table, Vissel Kobe lost 2-0 at home to second-place Yokohama F. Marinos but sealed automatic qualification for next season’s Asian Champions League by securing third-place thanks to a loss by Nagoya Grampus.
Celtic-linked Daizen Maeda took his season’s tally with Marinos to 22 goals with a 23rd-minute opener as he capitalized on a defensive error by Belgian international Thomas Vermaelen.
He is joined at the top of the scoring chart by Leandro Damiao after the Brazilian’s brace for champions Kawasaki Frontale in a 4-1 home win over Gamba Osaka.
Yoichiro Kakitani scored a stunning bicycle kick on his return to his boyhood club Cerezo Osaka, but Grampus’ hopes of a top-three finish ended with their 2-1 defeat in Osaka.
Kashima Antlers moved above Nagoya into fourth as they beat Sagan Tosu 1-0 at home. Avispa Fukuoka drew 2-2 at home against Sendai, while FC Tokyo had a late 2-1 comeback win away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Consadole Sapporo beat Kashiwa Reysol 3-1 at home, while Oita beat Yokohama FC 2-0 at home.
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