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Soccer: FC Tokyo taste bitter defeat after falling near final hurdle

Kensuke Nagai (far R) of FC Tokyo (Kyodo)

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) -- Despite achieving their best-ever finish in the J-League first division, FC Tokyo ended the season tasting disappointment after narrowly losing the title race to Yokohama F Marinos on Saturday.

Having held the top spot for most of the season, Kenta Hasegawa's men had to settle for second place following their 3-0 loss to Marinos, who clinched their first title in 15 years.

The season-ending match at Nissan Stadium had loomed as a winner-take-all finale between the top two sides, but FC Tokyo's hopes of reeling in Marinos took a hit when they drew 1-1 with Urawa Reds in the penultimate round.

That result left FC Tokyo three points adrift of Marinos and needing victory by at least four goals for their maiden J1 crown. Adding to their problems was the absence of top scorer Diego Oliveira, who was ruled out with a knee injury.

The visitors applied early pressure, but first-half goals to Thai wingback Theerathon Bunmathan and Brazilian striker Erik, and a late strike from substitute Keita Endo ensured the 63,854 in attendance saw Ange Postecoglou's side crowned champions.

FC Tokyo striker Kensuke Nagai rued missed opportunities after failing to convert a handful of chances.

"I want to develop the ability to finish these chances calmly and accurately," Nagai said.

Hasegawa, who guided Gamba Osaka to the domestic treble in 2014, urged his players to go one step further next season.

"Let's go back out there and get (the title) next year," said the 54-year-old.

Captain Keigo Higashi said he hoped the team would become stronger after falling just short of their goal.

"Having felt this disappointment, I want us to grow from the experience," he said.

Benefiting from a home-heavy early schedule, FC Tokyo led the league from rounds eight through 27. But they faced a difficult stretch of eight straight road games through Nov. 9 while their home ground Ajinomoto Stadium hosted Rugby World Cup matches.

Marinos, meanwhile, finished on an 11-game unbeaten run to claim the title by a six-point margin.

Addressing the exultant fans at Nissan Stadium, Postecoglou said he had kept a promise made at the end of last season.

"One year ago I stood here, and I said, 'in one year's time, we will be champions.' We didn't do it easy. We did it our way. The Marinos' way," said Postecoglou, who became the first Australian manager to win the J-League title.

"I want to thank all our supporters. You are the best in Japan...the best in the world. And finally I want to thank the real heroes, all these (players) standing behind me here. Every one of them are real champions."

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