Verdy aim to secure promotion at scene of inaugural triumph

Following years of underachievement in the second tier, Tokyo Verdy head into this weekend’s playoff final for a place in Japan’s top flight hoping to open a new chapter in the club’s history at National Stadium.

Once-dominant Verdy, who captured the inaugural 1993 J-League championship at the capital’s iconic venue, go into Saturday’s final against Shimizu S-Pulse knowing a draw is enough to secure a return to J1 for the first time since 2008.

Having finished third in the J2 standings, Hiroshi Jofuku’s side only needed to avoid defeat in Sunday’s semifinal against sixth-placed JEF United Chiba but ran out comfortable 2-1 winners, courtesy of first-half goals from Hikaru Nakahara and Koki Morita

“It would have made it more difficult if we had gone into the game (against JEF) thinking we only need to get a draw and the same goes for the final,” said Verdy defender Hiroto Taniguchi. “We’ve got this far so we want to make sure we finish the job with a win.”

“We are enjoying being in this situation rather than feeling any pressure. Verdy have carved out a lot of history there (at the National Stadium) and we want to make it a day where we create even more.”

Shimizu, who finished fourth in J2 and reached the final after a 0-0 draw at home to fifth-placed Montedio Yamagata, beat Verdy in both of their league meetings this season.

The Shizuoka club scored the second-most goals (78) behind J2 champions Machida Zelvia, with whom they shared the joint-best goal difference (44).

Verdy, meanwhile, boasted the meanest defense with 31 goals conceded, and their confidence is high as they go into the final on an 11-match unbeaten streak.

“By numbers I guess they (Shimizu) have the best goal difference in J2, so if we are thinking about that, then it’s going to be a pretty tough game for both teams,” said Verdy goalkeeper Matheus.

“Our team is on an upward trajectory. We haven’t lost for 11 games in a row, so I think the momentum is with us and we only have to draw, which is a pretty big advantage.”

“It (the final) will be decided in little details like today (against JEF), one save or one good kick,” added the Brazilian, who pulled off a superb save to deny Hiroto Goya from close range before Verdy broke the deadlock to take control of the semi.

Verdy are one of the most successful clubs in Japanese football, with two league titles, two Emperor’s Cups and three League Cups to their name since the league turned professional.

Matheus is well aware of the club’s past glories and says he finds it “absurd” that they have endured years of midtable mediocrity in J2.

“I know all of the history,” said the 30-year-old. “My image of this club was very different from the image that I found when I came here.”

“I knew all of the history and that it was the biggest club in the country and I felt like people had to recover that mindset, not get used to being a midtable team in J2. That is absurd to me.”

The goalkeeper said the National Stadium, which was rebuilt for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, would make a fitting venue for the reemergence of the club.

“I’m happy because it’s such a big game and who knows, maybe this is (going to be) the return of the true Tokyo Verdy at the stadium where it all started a lot of years ago. It suits the occasion pretty well,” he said.

By Nadeem Faisal Baiga