Back to the future: The J.League Two-Stage is here, and it’s welcome

It’s all change in Japanese professional football.  As part of a significant rebrand and overhaul of its sponsors, the top two divisions will become the J1 and J2 Leagues, mirroring the third tier introduced in 2013, while Meiji Yasuda becomes title sponsor for all three competitions.  Agreements with Calbee and Konami as primary sponsors have come to an end, the latter potentially providing an opening for EA Sports and its FIFA franchise to be granted the J.League’s licence, ending the Winning XI series’ long-standing monopoly.  Gamba Osaka’s new arena is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2015, the first stadium with a capacity in excess of 30,000 to open since the co-hosted 2002 FIFA World Cup.  With venues for Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Montedio Yamagata, Shimizu S-PulseKyoto Sanga, Giravanz Kitakyushu, V-Varen Nagasaki, FC Ryukyu and AC Nagano Parceiro at various stages of discussion, planning and construction, it may be the prelude to a raft of modern, football-specific stadia in the coming years.   Most importantly, after a decade the decidedly European single-stage, double-round robin format has come to an end.  Next season, the 50th anniversary of top-flight organised league football in Japan, will see the country’s first division comprise two stages and a championship play-off.

Continue reading

A return to Football Japan

After a lengthy absence aused by the author undertaking an MBA in Football Industries at the University of Liverpool, this blog has returned, albeit with a different slant to before.  For the foreseeable future, there will be an attempt to make sense of the business of Japanese football at a club and organisational level and some of the data including some statistical analysis of players past and present.  With Manchester City’s parent organisation City Football Group purchasing a stake in Yokohama F.Marinos with a view to taking a majority share, and the J.League’s expansion to three divisions and a change to a two-stage system in J1, there likely isn’t a better time to help understand, for example, which other clubs might be ripe for targeting by domestic or foreign investors.   Video of games and goals will also appear from time to time.  If you have any suggestions of content you would like to see, please drop me a line or contact me on Twitter.

Japan v Latvia Friendly Result (Kirin Challenge Cup 2013)

The Samurai Blue eased to victory against very poor opposition in the shape of Latvia, but it wasn’t until the 41st minute that they took the lead. Shinji Okazaki stretched to divert Atsuto Uchida’s wayward shot into the net via the upright to give Japan a 1-0 advantage at half-time.

Two further goals were added in the space of teo minutes in the second period, both created by Shinji Kagawa. First on 59 minutes Keisuke Honda bent the ball beyond the reach of Vanins in the Latvia goal, before Okazaki doubled his tally and scored his 31st overall in 59 appearances for the national team, rounding Vanins and rolling the ball into the empty net. Okazaki now sits just seven goals behind Hiromi Hara in the all-time goal scoring table for his country, and continuing at only a marginally improved goals per game ratio could see him reach Hara in third position before the close of the year.

With such bare resistance offered by their opponents it took little effort on the Samurai Blues’ part to dismantle the visitors, but they can be satisfied with a reasonable performance and in having achieved the expected and required comfortable win.

Japan Japan
Okazaki 41′, 61′
Honda 60′
3 Latvia 5050 Latvia 0

Japan: Kawashima; Uchida (Gotoku Sakai, 62′), Konno (Inoha, 66′), Yoshida, Nagatomo; Hasebe, Hosogai (Endo, 45′); Kiyotake (Maeda, 45′), Honda (Inui, 62′), Kagawa; Okazaki (Otsu, 81′)
Substitutes: Hayashi, Gonda; Inoha, Gotoku Sakai, Mizumoto, Hiroki Sakai; Endo, Takahashi; Inui, Otsu; Maeda

Latvia: Vanins; Bulvītis, Ivanovs, Gorkšs, Rugins; Laizāns (Žigajevs, 65′), Cauna (Sinelnikovs, 88′), Višnakovs (Zjuzins, 65′), Fertovs; Kamešs (Maksimenko, 72′), Gauračs (Verpakovskis, 71′)
Substitutes: Doroševs, Mālins, Maksimenko, Klava, Kurakins, Smirnovs, Žigajevs, Zjuzins, Sinelnikovs, Verpakovskis

J.League, Samurai Blue and Nadeshiko Fixtures (Football Japan Fixtures Calendar 2013)

A full, comprehensive fixtures calendar for the forthcoming Japanese football season, including kick-off times and stadium addresses, and which covers J.League Divisions 1 and 2, the Yamazaki Nabisco and Emperor’s Cups, the AFC Champions League matches in which Japanese sides are participating, and senior Men’s and Women’s internationals can be accessed at the following links:

XML iCal HTML

iCal (.ics file type) is compatible with most calendar software including Google Calendar, Apple iCal, Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes and Yahoo Calendar. It will also work with Android and Apple smartphones and tablets. Any updates made to the calendar as the season progresses will automatically be reflected on your device.

To add the Calendar to a Google Calendar, click “Other Calendars”, then “Add by URL”. Copy and paste the iCal link provided above into the field marked “URL”, then click “Add Calendar”. The Football Japan calendar will be added to your list of calendars. A summary of these instructions on the Google website can be found here.

To add the Calendar to an iOS device, tap the “Settings” icon. Tap “Mail, Contacts, Calendars”, and then “Add Account…”. Then press “Other”, and “Add Subscribed Calendar”. Copy and paste the iCal link from above into the “Server” field, and press “Next”. Your device will then attempt to verify the subscription, and once successful, simply choose “Save” to complete the subscription. However, if you have any other Apple devices it is highly recommended that you first subscribe via Calendar or iCal on OS X, before adding the calendar on iOS. See page 67 of the current iPad User Guide here for further information if required.

Details on how to subscribe to the calendar using Microsoft Outlook can be found here, for Lotus Notes users a video guide has been produced here, and details on subscriptions via Yahoo Calendar are available here.

If you wish to see Japan Football League or L.League fixtures added to the calendar, or if you have any feedback or suggestions, please send me an email or contact me on Twitter at

J.League Player Distribution – Data Visualisation

Leading up to what, for many reasons, should be an enthralling 2013 season, I’ll be creating some visual representations of data containing a number of interesting insights into the J.League and the wider of issues surrounding the growth of football in Japan. This post, which relates to the prefectures of birth of J.League Division 1 and 2 squad members at the end of the 2012 season, uses two methods to look at the same data. Initially each prefecture was accorded a simple total of squad members born inside their respective boundaries, and later, in an attempt to assess which prefectures could be regarded as the “football hotbeds” of Japan, I calculated that same number of players in the context of the relevant prefectural population.

Continue reading

J.League to launch Division 3

Having previously noted on 9 November 2012 that discussions regarding a third professional tier of the J.League were set to commence before the end of the year, the Daily Yomiuri reports that the J.League is set to launch Division 3 in 2014.

In its inaugural season the number of participating teams is expected to be between ten and twelve, with a minimum stadium capacity requirement of just 3,000, compared to the 10,000 necessary required in J.League Division 2. While the 10,000 capacity stadia criteria in Division 2 makes little sense on the basis that average crowds across the division totalled just over 5,800, with only three teams nearer or above the 10,000 mark over the course of the 2012 season, the substantially smaller figure for the lower league should provide an easier standard of entry into the professional game for a number of teams currently residing in the JFL and the regional leagues.

There is no news at the present time as to how teams still owned and operated directly by parent companies will be affected, such as Honda FC, and where their future lies within the Japanese football league pyramid if they cannot or will not professionalise. Honda FC in particular made a deliberate decision to revert to fully amateur status having once been a J.League Associate Member, Honda Motor’s board assessing the environment and believing pursuing motor sport opportunities in the context of its main business to be the preferred option. It can only be hoped therefore that, despite the progress made by the J.League and the likely benefits that a third professional division will bring to the domestic and national game, one of the JFL’s stalwart members will be afforded sufficient consideration by the JFA in the event that it doesn’t garner the minimum level of support necessary from its fans and owners to become one of the third tier’s initial professional teams.

92nd Emperor’s Cup Final

 

Masakatsu Sawa’s snap shot after a pass from Leandro Domingues was turned away well by Gamba Osaka goalkeeper Yohei Takeda. From the resulting corner, however, bent away from goal by Jorge Wagner, Yasuhito Endo could not climb high enough to divert the ball away from goal, and Masakatsu Sawa rose to plant a firm header beyond Takeda to score the only goal of the game for Kashiwa Reysol. which ended Gamba Osaka’s hopes of appearing in their sixth consecutive AFC Champions League. Reysol join Australia’s Central Coast Mariners, Guizhou Renhe from China and South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings in Group H, taking the final place reserved for a Japanese side in the competition. Gamba now have the opportunity to focus primarily on gaining immediate promotion back to the top-flight of Japanese football, but whether they are able to rely on the talents of senior internationals Endo and Yasuyuki Konno, together with the potent attacking abilities of Leandro and Akihiro Ienaga is a matter which will be decided in the coming weeks.

Gamba Osaka
0 Kashiwa Reysol
Watanabe 35′
1