AS Elfen Saitama 3 - 3 Nippon TV Beleza
Beleza went into this game against near neighbours Saitama knowing that while a win would not guarantee finishing first, anything less than a win would surely see them have to settle for second at best.
Saitama have shown a tremendous amount of spirit in their final games, and having lost eight of their first nine games picked up thirteen points in their eight games to date since then. Long-time servant Azami Rie was again one of their star performers this year and she gave the home side the lead in the ninth minute with a spectacular goal. Picking the ball up on the left touchline well inside her own half, she powered down the left before coming inside to unleash an unstoppable shot from outside the area.
Beleza showed far more attacking prowess but it wasn't until five minutes before half-time that they found an equaliser, their top scorer Sakaguchi Mizuho striking home well after she was found down the middle by a long pass from Hara.
Beleza were expected to continue where they left off in the first half and to go on to take all three points, but it was Saitama who retook the lead just before the hour mark, with Azami again the scorer, following up quickly after Arakawa had scuffed her attempted volley off Takeda's cross.
Again Beleza needed two goals to win and take control of the division overnight, and it was their young heroine Momiki Yuka who provided both. With sixty-seven minutes gone she first found the equalising goal after the ball, played into the area, was missed by everyone but Momiki who scored with confidence past Yamago. Eight minutes later she found the net again, bundling the ball over the line after Yamaguchi Mami had hit the post.
Beleza led for the first time, and looked destined to go top at least for twenty-four hours, but a rash challenge by Kinoshita on Sugiyama in the box gave Ito Kanako the chance to level from the penalty spot and she made no mistake.
There was little time for a Beleza recovery, and despite their overall dominance they had to settle for a point. With Okayama Yunogo Belle winning their final game, Beleza ended the day in second and would have to hope that they would at least retain that position. Saitama finish in eighth and start the Exciting Series with six points, just two behind leaders Vegalta Sendai.
AS Elfen Saitama:
Yamago Nozomi (capt), Takeda Arisa, Saito Natsumi, Takahashi Yuko, Takeyama Yuko, Hagiwara Aimi, Ito Kanako, Nara Misaki, Azami Rie, Arakawa Eriko, Suzuki Kaoruko
Subs: Takahashi Kaho (Nara Misaki, HT), Sugiyama Takako (Suzuki Kaoruko, 65 mins)
Unused subs: Funada Mayu, Akitaya Misato, Hara Ayumi, Uchida Saki, Nakano Rino
Scorers: Azami Rie (9, 59 mins), Ito Kanako (90 mins, pen)
Booked: Ito Kanako
Nippon TV Beleza:
Soyama Kanako, Shimizu Risa, Iwashimizu Azusa (capt), Kinoshita Shiori, Ariyoshi Saori, Hara Natsuko, Sakaguchi Mizuho, Sumida Rin, Momiki Yuka, Nakasato Yu, Tanaka Mina
Subs: Hasegawa Yui (Nakasato Yu, HT), Yamaguchi Mami (Tanaka Mina, 67 mins)
Unused subs: Yamashita Ayaka, Doko Mayo, Kobayashi Miharu, Kobayashi Yayoi, Shimada Chiaki
Scorers: Sakaguchi Mizuho (40 mins), Momiki Yuka (67, 75 mins)
Booked: Kinoshita Shiori
JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies 2 - 0 Vegalta Sendai Ladies
Though both sides went into this game knowing that a win would cement their place in the Upper Section for the Exciting Series, Vegalta Sendai only needed a draw to reach the top six. In their first meeting on the opening weekend, JEF United looked very disjointed but they have recovered well and in this game they completely dominated Sendai and deservedly take their spot among the title challengers.
Anzai Yuka, one of the home side's rising young stars, scored her first goal of the season in the 31st minute to give her side the lead. Picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area she skipped past one challenge before striking a superb shot into the top left hand corner past Saita in the Vegalta goal.
In the second half Vegalta Sendai were kept at bay, and they produced no shots at goal. At the other end Sugasawa Yuika scored her twelfth goal of a very fine season to seal the win in the 56th minute. Vegalta were again sloppy in defence and Kawamura pounced on the chance to send Sugasawa clear and she very calmly slotted the ball home to the great delight of teammates and supporters alike.
JEF United thus look forward to the coming Exciting Series, with Vegalta Sendai suddenly in danger of relegation. Although they have looked far stronger than the bottom three teams, they have slipped badly recently and start the decisive six games just two points ahead of Saitama and three ahead of Iga.
JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies:
Yamane Erina, Wakabayashi Minori, Sakuramoto Naoko (capt), Chino Shoko, Ueno Saki, Setoguchi Kozue, Kawamura Mari, Anzai Yuka, Fukasawa Risa, Ikadai Risa, Sugasawa Yuika
Subs: Kamogawa Miho (Ikadai Risa, 90+1 mins), Tsurumi Ayaka (Anzai Yuka, 90+3 mins)
Unused subs: Nemoto Mio, Oya Madoka, Matsuura Nagisa, Shimada Ayako, Hanagiri Naomi
Scorers: Anzai Yuka (31 mins), Sugasawa Yuika (56 mins)
Vegalta Sendai Ladies:
Saita Yuki (capt), Sakai Yuki, Yamamoto Risa, Osafune Kana, Sasaki Mayu, Tahara Nozomi, Kawamura Yuri, Uetsuji Yumi, Kakazu Asuka, Hamada Haruka, Ono Hitomi
Subs: Takara Ryoko (Sakai Yuki, 10 mins), Inoue Ayaka (Kakazu Asuka, 63 mins), Koyama Kie (Ono Hitomi, 72 mins)
Unused subs: Saito Ayaka, Takahashi Nana, Ideue Asako, Kawashima Haruna
Booked: Osafune Kana
FC Kibikokusaidaigaku Charme 0 - 7 Okayama Yunogo Belle
Belle moved to the top of the Nadeshiko League with a fully-expected victory over neighbours Kibi in Okayama in front of a record home crowd for the university side.
By half-time Belle were four goals to the good, with Miyama scoring the opener from open play and the third direct from a free kick, with Kibi goalkeeper Morimoto Kiyo largely at fault. Nakano Manami and Arimachi Saori also scored in the first half, bringing their totals this season to seven and four goals respectively.
After sixty minutes Noma Fumika was sent off for a foul in the box, Kibi's first ever sending off in four years of league play. Miyama scored the resulting penalty for her hat trick and scored another three minutes later having combined well with Nakano, who herself scored six minutes from time to give Belle a comprehensive win and bring her total to eight over eighteen games.
Belle would have to wait until the result of the Urawa-INAC Kobe game on Sunday to find out if they had done enough to win the Regular Series, and as things transpired, they had. Whether they can maintain their high standards with such a small squad over the coming months remains to be seen, but for now they can be happy that their efforts have at least resulted in qualification for the International Women's Club Championship. Kibi are likely to be relegated at the end of the season, with a five point gap to Iga in ninth at the start of the Exciting Series.
FC Kibikokusaidaigaku Charme:
Morimoto Kiyo, Muramatsu Mafuyu, Asai Sakura, Nagano Momoko, Noma Fumika, Nishikawa Asuka, Takano Saki, Kurakazu Shiho, Yoshitake Manami, Eguchi Mika, Takahashi Chiho (capt)
Subs: Komatsu Mina (Eguchi Mika, HT), Oka Misako (Asai Sakura, 67 mins), Akatsu Yuri (Yoshitake Manami, 79 mins)
Unused subs: Isashi Kaede, Adachi Eriko, Kanbara Misaki, Tachibana Rei
Booked: Takahashi Chiho
Sent off: Noma Fumika
Okayama Yunogo Belle:
Fukumoto Miho (capt), Kado Yuka, Hosokawa Motoyo, Mizushima Kumi, Takahashi Sachie, Kuzuma Riyo, Nakano Manami, Miyama Aya, Asano Miki, Arimachi Saori, Matsuoka Miki
Subs: Nakada Maiko (Asano Miki, 65 mins), Fushiki Kaho (Hosokawa Motoyo, 73 mins)
Unused subs: Kitaura Miho, Kawano Saki, Tanaka Mayu
Scorers: Miyama Aya (7, 29, 61 mins (pen), 64 mins), Nakano Manami (22, 84 mins), Arimachi Saori (32 mins)
Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies 0 - 1 INAC Kobe Leonessa
With Beleza drawing and Belle winning on Saturday, Urawa went into this final game against the champions knowing that just a draw would be enough to see them finish top. INAC Kobe were guaranteed to finish in the top six, though only a win would move them up to fifth.
Kira had a good chance to shoot after just two minutes, but shot just wide though the early signs were good for the home side, especially as the INAC defence again looked uncertain. After ten minutes INAC were still struggling to generate anything in attack and Urawa were playing the ball around well looking for opportunities to shoot, one of which Shibata put just wide.
Kato Chika was injured after eighteen minutes and had to go off, and was replaced by Otaki Ami. Shibata and later Kira both had gone shooting chances but on both occasions Kaihori was equal to the challenge.
In the 37th minute Kaihori was at the centre of the key moment of the opening half, as she went unpunished for handling the ball outside of her area. A fine ball down the middle from Otaki found the onside Kira in space. Held up, she gave the ball off to Goto who shot at goal, with the INAC keeper now well outside her area and the goal unguarded. Although it appeared to be a clear case of handball, the referee allowed play to continue to the fury of the home support.
Urawa continued to press well for the remainder of the half but didn't again create a chance in front of goal. INAC Kobe had very little to show for their endeavours, and Urawa will have been confident of at least a scoreless draw.
Urawa started the second half as positively as they had done the first, creating openings down both wings, but it was INAC who took their chance when presented to them. A free kick on the edge of the Urawa area was played in as always by Nakajima who herself had been fouled. The ball missed everyone, and Otaki attempted to clear under pressure from Polkinghorne, playing her final game for INAC. The clearance was short though, and Masuya Rika volleyed home her fifth goal of the season to give the visitors the lead to stunned silence.
The Urawa management made an immediate change in response. Seike Kiko has been a revelation in her first season with six goals to her name, and Urawa brought her on in place of Kira in search of the equaliser ten minutes into the second half. INAC became more confident as a result of the goal and began to play well in the Urawa half, and although they didn't look likely to score, it was enough to dampen the Urawa spirits, as the expected fierce comeback didn't materialise. Kishikawa injured herself trying to beat Sawa in the air, somersaulting over the veteran's back as she leaned over, though she was penalised. Kishikawa was replaced by Saito Akane.
Watanabae Ayaka came on for Nakada Ayu in the 74th minute, a change which had been delayed due to the injury to Kishikawa. As time wore on and decisions went against them, the Urawa faithful and their players grew more frustrated and INAC were doing everything they could to exacerbate this situation. Another handled ball was missed, this time in the box, though it appeared to be accidental.
Time wore on, and neither Otaki nor Seike were making much of an impact, with all of Urawa's players tiring. INAC did what they could to hold onto the ball as much as possible and to restrict the hosts to shots from distance when they lost possession. In the final minute INAC made one more change, Miyake Shiori coming on for Isokane Midori.
In the end Urawa couldn't find a goal, and indeed they hadn't looked genuinely threatening since going behind. This was Urawa's fourth consecutive game without a goal, and with that kind of form a fall was inevitable. Having led the league for so long Urawa were bitterly disappointed to lose, and have ended the Regular Series in third. INAC's win moves them into fifth, just two points behind Urawa starting the Exciting Series and with as good a chance as anyone of winning the title.
Urawa Red Diamonds Ladies:
Hirao Chika, Dozono Ayano, Norimatsu Ruka, Kohata Shiho, Usui Rie, Shibata Hanae, Naomoto Hikaru, Kishikawa Natsuki, Kato Chika, Kira Chinatsu, Goto Michi (capt)
Subs: Otaki Ami (Kato Chika, 20 mins), Seike Kiko (Kira Chinatsu, 55 mins), Saito Akane (Kishikawa Natsuki, 67 mins)
Unused subs: Ikeda Sakiko, Ishii Saki, Sakamoto Riho, Wada Naoko
Booked: Kohata Shiho
INAC Kobe Leonessa:
Kaihori Ayumi, Noguchi Ayaka, Kai Junko, Clare Polkinghorne, Isokane Midori, Kyokawa Mai, Sawa Homare, Nakajima Emi, Nakada Ayu, Takase Megumi (capt), Masuya Rika
Subs: Watanabe Ayaka (Nakada Ayu, 74 mins), Miyake Shiori (Isokane Midori, 90 mins)
Unused subs: Takenaka Rei, Minamiyama Chiaki, Ito Miki
Scorers: Masuya Rika (52 mins)
Booked: Masuya Rika, Watanabe Ayaka
Albirex Niigata Ladies 0 - 1 Iga FC Kunoichi
Niigata already knew that they had secured fourth place and that moving any higher was extremely unlikely, but they still wished to finish the season well. Iga simply wanted a win to gain another point at the start of the Exciting Series.
The game was decided in the eighth minute, a long ball from deep to Kobayashi Makiko catching the Niigata defence on the back foot. Running along the goal line, she crossed across the face of goal and with the Niigata defence unable to take control of the ball, Tsutsumi Saki took her chance to score easily.
Today's match saw the final contributions from Iga's Australian players, Elise Kellond-Knight and Tameka Butt who will return to Brisbane on the 26th of this month. Iga's challenge is to maintain their current form in the Exciting Series, with their two matches against Saitama likely to decide their fate.
Albirex Niigata Ladies:
Ichitani Tomoko, Obara Yuria, Sayama Momoko, Kitahara Kana, Kojima Miku, Takahashi Haruka, Yamada Shoko, Sakaguchi Moeno, Kamionobe Megumi (capt), Saeki Aya, Oishi Sayaka
Subs: Yamamoto Arina (Sayama Momoko, 66 mins), Kodama Keiko (Oishi Sayaka, 76 mins), Yamazaki Marumi (Yamada Shoko, 85 mins)
Unused subs: Koganemaru Sachie, Sekura Haruhi
Iga FC Kunoichi:
Kuno Fubuki, Miyasako Tamami, Michikura Hiroko, Ohashi Mio, Elise Kellond-Knight, Nasu Maiko (capt), Matsunaga Tomoe, Kobayashi Makiko, Tsutsumi Saki, Matsunaga Yoshie, Ogawa Shiho
Subs: Tameka Butt (Matsunaga Yoshie, 62 mins), Sugita Ami (Tsutsumi Saki, 71 mins), Sato Ai (Matsunaga Tomoe, 90 mins)
Unused subs: Sawada Norimi, Haji Madoka
Scorers: Tsutsumi Saki (9 mins)