Yoichiro Kakitani started a home game for the first time since the Kamatamare Sanuki fixture on Matchday 16, and lined up as one of two strikers alongside Ryuji Sawakami. With centre-back Yusuke Tanaka missing this game Riku Matsuda, Tatsuya Yamashita, Kota Fujimoto, and Yusuke Maruhashi made up a four-man back line.
“With the formation changing again to 4-4-2 there were some small problems that don’t crop up in training sessions,” Shohei Kiyohara commented of the first half display, and in trying new things Cerezo occasionally made mistakes and suffered a scare in the 25th minute when Roasso’s Koki Kiyotake hit the bar with a free kick. They covered quickly as a team when they lost the ball though, and put their bodies on the line defensively to save themselves from falling into trouble.
Cerezo made some chances as well in the opening period, but there were also times when things didn’t quite click. Things improved in the second half, with Kakitani revealing that, “We talked about the fact that we should all attack as a unit.” With that in mind Cerezo began to produce more aggressive attacks, with both full-backs, Matsuda and Maruhashi, contributing to the forward plays and threatening Kumamoto’s defence – making four opportunities in the opening 10 minutes of the second half alone. It was frustrating not to able to score in that spell because of good Roasso defending and some smart saves by their goalkeeper. Noriyuki Sakemoto and Yuzo Tashiro came on in the 65th and 77th minutes, respectively, as Cerezo kept attacking tenaciously, and the opener they were craving finally came in the 80th minute.
Tashiro held up a Hotaru Yamaguchi clearance well after a Roasso free kick, before passing to Sakemoto to start the counter attack. Many players joined the charge towards goal and Sakemoto crossed from the right side. Yamaguchi had made a move towards the near post, drawing some opponents with him and leaving Kakitani in space at the back post to receive the cross, and he laid it back for Kenyu Sugimoto who struck it firmly with the outside of his right boot to score a fine goal. Cerezo had broken the deadlock in style thanks to the combination of several players.
In the 88th minute Daichi Akiyama, a player with mobility and the ability to win the ball, replaced Kakitani, helping Cerezo’s defenders such as Fujimoto to deny Kumamoto’s direct attacks as the clock ran down. The last phase of the game may well become critical in the play offs and Cerezo’s players never gave the opponents a chance to take. Despite the fact Cerezo weren’t able to add any more goals they restricted Kumamoto to just one effort in the second half, and this 1-0 win enabled them to wrap up the regular season with three victories in a row.
Cerezo’s full record from 42 games was 23 wins, 9 draws, and 10 defeats, resulting in a 4th-placed finish on 78 points. The gaps to champions Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo (85 points) and runners-up Shimizu S-Pulse (84) were 7 and 6 points, respectively, and while Cerezo failed to achieve their target of winning J2 and securing automatic promotion to J1 the route back to the top flight is still open. Furthermore, the team has picked up a winning habit again with consecutive triumphs as they head into the play offs for the second year in a row.
The players were in high spirits after the game against Kumamoto, with Yamaguchi saying, “If we can play as we did in the second half today then we will be able to play with our rhythm throughout the entire match”. Cerezo will certainly need to keep this good momentum in their decisive semi-final battle against Kyoto Sanga F.C. in front of their own fans at Kincho Stadium a week from now. In the post-match ceremony, meanwhile, captain Kakitani demonstrated that the team are targeting promotion with fear for nobody, simply stating, “We will definitely be promoted to J1”.
J2 League Section 42 Roasso Kumamoto 1 - 0 J2 League Section 42