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.

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