The weather was not ideal with a cold rain falling, but the stadium was filled with many Cerezo fans, who created a formidable home advantage with their support. In response Cerezo entered the game looking for nothing less than a victory.
That strong will paid off in the 13th minute. Cerezo kept the ball with good rhythm on the left side before Hotaru Yamaguchi passed inside to Sousa. He fizzed in a strong, low effort from 30 metres and the ball skidded along the slippery pitch, drawing a sharp save from Kyoto goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno. He was only able to repel the ball as far as Yoichiro Kakitani though, who reacted fast and first.
Kakitani moved onto the loose ball quickly and then delicately dinked it over the grounded Sugeno and into the back of the net. That was the captain’s much-wished-for first goal since returning from a long spell out injured, and the first time he had scored since the game against Kamatamare Sanuki back on Matchday 16. It was also the first time that Cerezo had taken the lead in four games against Kyoto this season. “We were able to go forward from the beginning of the game which enabled us to snatch possession of the ball,” Ryuji Sawakami, who lined up as one of two strikers alongside Kakitani, explained. “That worked well to help us offensively and defensively”. The players took the initiative in the first half and fought well to win the ball before making sure not to play backwards once in possession.
With the rain getting heavier Yuki Horigome, one of Kyoto’s key players, came on in the second half. While the opponents tried to change the game Cerezo kept attacking. In the 55th and 56th minutes Sawakami had chances to add to the score, and while he failed to take them it kept Kyoto penned back.
However, the away side gradually began to push forward more and won several corners, which required Cerezo to stay patient and defend tenaciously as a team. In the 70th minute the tall holding midfielder Kazuya Yamamura was brought on, followed by Noriyuki Sakemoto in the 81st minute. Finally another tall player in striker Yuzo Tashiro was introduced in the 86th minute, replacing Kakitani as Cerezo looked to close the game out with a decisive second goal.
At the other end Kyoto’s striker Escudero produced one dangerous effort in the 83rd minute, but Cerezo keeper Kim Jin-hyeon produced a spectacular save to keep it out. However, Kyoto did manage to equalize in the 90th minute, Koki Arita converting after they kept up the pressure after a free kick. After that goal Cerezo had to endure some more desperate attacks, but they managed to hang on until full time without conceding any more goals. They failed to win the game but having finished higher in the table than Kyoto this season they progressed to the final regardless.
Cerezo kept their hopes of promotion alive after overcoming fierce rival Kyoto in a heated Kansai derby, but goalkeeper Kim is expecting more from the side in the next game.
“We were lucky to be able to qualify despite the draw,” he said. “I think the outcome of the game was good, but we need to rebuild again for the next match.” There are still some things to be improved before the decisive battle of the season.
“We still have a chance,” Kakitani said. “We will definitely grab this opportunity to go back to J1.” This result must lead to another triumph in the final, and then promotion to J1.
Cerezo’s opponents in the final will be 6th-placed Fagiano Okayama, and along with the right to again play at home at Kincho Stadium Cerezo only need a draw to emerge victorious. In one week the team will have the chance to avenge the disappointment of last season by winning the final at home and sharing the joy with their tremendous supporters.
J1 Promotion Play-offs Semifinal Kyoto Sanga F.C. J1 Promotion Play-offs Semifinal