TOKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- Tokushima Vortis became the last of four J-League first-division teams to be relegated this season after losing 4-2 to visiting Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the final round of fixtures on Saturday.
Tokushima started the day trailing Shimizu S-Pulse and Shonan Bellmare as the lowest ranked of three teams still battling for survival. Their defeat ensured they would join the already-relegated Oita Trinita, Vegalta Sendai and Yokohama FC in the J2 next year.
Promoted Tokushima needed both a victory and for Shimizu to lose to avoid going straight back down. But after trailing 3-0 by the break at Pocari Sweat Stadium, they saw their J1 endeavor come to an end in one season, mirroring their previous one-year top-flight foray in 2014.
"I'm really sorry for the fans who gathered here, believing in our chances," Tokushima captain Ken Iwao said.
Tokushima's Spanish manager Daniel Poyatos, appointed ahead of the season but unable to join the team for the first 10 J1 games due to COVID-19 border restrictions, also apologized to the fans.
"I'm filled with sadness. Their warm support gave us the power but we couldn't pay them back," Poyatos said. "There was a bit of pressure on the players at the start and Hiroshima took their chances."
The J1 featured 20 teams this year after suspending relegation in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus, with the top two J2 sides, Tokushima and Avispa Fukuoka, having been promoted. The bottom four sides are going down to the J2 as the J1 returns to the normal 18-team format next term.
Struggling against the headwind, Tokushima went behind in the ninth minute when Tomoya Fujii volleyed in a Toshihiro Aoyama cross from the left. Fujii then provided a cross from the opposite flank for Ezequiel to head in their second two minutes later.
Ezequiel had his second of the day in the 36th minute, again through a header, before Takeru Kishimoto's long-range effort gave Tokushima a lifeline nine minutes after the break.
But a defensive error led to Hiroshima's fourth through Yuya Asano in the 65th minute, with Kazunari Ichimi's 80th-minute header for Vortis a mere consolation.
Starting the day three points ahead of their fellow relegation battlers, Shimizu could ensure safety with a draw at home against Cerezo Osaka. They eventually prevailed 2-1 but had to endure a nervous period after a volley from the J1's retiring record scorer, Cerezo forward Yoshito Okubo, led to a Shimizu own goal.
The home team leveled in first-half stoppage time through Yoshinori Suzuki and then took the lead six minutes after the restart thanks to an unstoppable shot by Kenta Nishizawa.
Playing little more than a week after 23-year-old Brazilian midfielder Riuler de Oliveira's death from a heart attack, Shonan started level on points with Tokushima but with a big lead in goal difference. Their scoreless draw away to Gamba Osaka was enough to ensure survival.
Leandro Damiao of champions Kawasaki Frontale and Daizen Maeda of Yokohama F Marinos each scored in a 1-1 draw between the top two sides, finishing as the J1's joint top scorers with 23 goals apiece.
Third-place Vissel Kobe ended on a high with a 2-0 win at Sagan Tosu, who finished seventh, while Kashima Antlers finished fourth with a 1-0 win at relegated Sendai.
Nagoya Grampus finished fifth after a 0-0 stalemate at home against Urawa Reds, who finished sixth. Promoted Fukuoka finished a creditable eighth, as they held FC Tokyo to a scoreless away draw. Consadole Sapporo won 1-0 at Yokohama FC, while Oita won 3-2 at Kashiwa Reysol.