The Hisato Sato-led Purple Archers captured their first-ever league crown after second-place Vegalta Sendai fell at home to relegation-threatened Albirex NiigataSanfrecce Hiroshima clinched their first-ever J-League Division 1 title on Saturday with one round remaining after a 4-1 demolition of Cerezo Osaka.
The Purple Archers' historical achievement came on a cloudy day at Hiroshima Big Arch, with early rain failing to prevent a capacity crowd of over 32,000 from showing up to celebrate the unexpected success of a club who just four years ago found themselves rudderless and in the second division.
Sanfrecce took an insurmountable lead in the first half on goals by Yojiro Takahagi and Toshihiro Aoyama as well as a penalty kick by league scoring leader Hisato Sato. That penalty came after Cerezo's Hotaru Yamaguchi saw a straight red card for a take-down in the penalty area, leaving the visitors down a man and unable to mount a comeback.
Both sides scored in the second half before Sanfrecce adopted a defensive posture in order to protect their goal difference against second-place Vegalta Sendai. Their fears were unwarranted, however, as the Tohoku side fell 0-1 at home to relegation-threatened Albirex Niigata.
After their 2007 relegation, the western Japan outfit rebuilt themselves and captured the second-division title in 2008. Manager Mihailo Petrovic then led the team to a fourth-place finish in 2009, earning a spot in the 2010 Asian Champions League. Petrovic, who left the club after last season, was replaced by first-time manager Hajime Moriyasu, himself a former Sanfrecce player and Japan international.
In addition to the €2 million prize for capturing the league, Sanfrecce will now participate in next month's Fifa Club World Cup and are scheduled to play New Zealand's Auckland FC in a play-off match on December 6 at Yokohama Stadium. The winner of that match will advance to a quarter-final against Concacaf champions Monterrey, with South American kings Corinthians waiting in the semi-finals.