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.


British architect wins design competition for Japan’s new National Stadium

Zaha Hadid’s winning design for the new National Stadium, Tokyo (Courtesy jpnsport.com)

This article can also be read at The Guardian.

Dame Zaha Hadid, best known in the UK for the London 2012 aquatics centre, the architectural centrepiece of the summer games, has taken first place in a competition to design the new Tokyo National Stadium. The visually striking submission will replace the current, ageing structure, built in 1958 and which served as the main venue for the 1964 Summer Olympics. The 54-year old stadium, designed by Mitsuo Katayama and described by Jury chair Tadao Ando as “announcing the birth of a modern Japanese architecture”, will make way for a new venue which Ando confirmed will see a modern Japan “reborn anew”. The stadium is scheduled for completion in 2018, and will play host to the 2019 Rugby World Cup together with forming the centrepiece of the 2020 Summer Olympics should Tokyo’s bid prove successful.

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(Yuki Nagasato’s first-half strike gave the Nadeshiko victory over Sweden in the 2012 Sweden Invitational, Japan finishing runners-up in the three-member tournament behind the United States with one win and one defeat)

The Japan women’s national football team wrapped up their participation in the 2012 Sweden Invitational with a 1-0 win against the host nation. Yuki Nagasato prodded home on the 27th minute for her second goal in the competition and her third in consecutive matches, and was the only Japanese player to have found the net in the round-robin tournament. Norio Sasaki fielded a relatively young side for the match, captain Aya Miyama, second-choice goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto, midfielder Megumi Kamionobe and forward Kozue Ando the only players in the starting line-up over the age of 25. Homare Sawa, Nahomi Kawasumi, Mizuho Sakaguchi, Shinobu Ohno and Yukari Kinga were named as substitutes.

The defeat was the second in as many years for the Blågult at the hands of Japan having exited the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup at the semi-final stage in a 3-1 loss, and they meet again on 28 July at the City of Coventry Stadium, their fixture the pick of the Group F games in the London 2012 Olympic Women’s football tournament.

Hindering their final preparations is news that Rumi Utsugi, who was stretchered off the field in the 4-1 defeat versus the US after a poor challenge from Carli Lloyd, has suffered knee ligament damage. The 23-year old midfielder, who supported her teammates in the Sweden match from the sidelines, has not yet been ruled out of making the final Olympic squad, Norio Sasaki confirming that an assessment will be made in early July.

The Under-20 Japan women’s national team completed their two match series versus the United States with honours even, a 1-0 loss on 17 June followed by a 2-0 defeat three days later, as they continued their preparations for the forthcoming World Cup as hosts. In keeping with their respective senior sides, both nations will begin the tournament among the favourites and should they top their groups as expected, a prospective meeting could only occur in one of the medal matches. Japan begin their campaign on 19 August versus Mexico at the Miyagi Stadium.

Shinji Kagawa has departed Narita Airport for his medical at Manchester United, notes the Mainichi Shimbun. The Samurai Blue international’s stay in the UK will be of a very short duration, with his return home expected to be on 23 June.

And finally, the Mainichi also confirms that Kuniya Daini is the President-Elect of the Japan Football Association, and will replace the outgoing Junji Ogura at the expiration of his term. Daini, who represented his country 44 times in a playing career that spanned nearly a decade, and as a defender played for Mitsubishi Motors, the predecessors of Urawa Red Diamonds, has been a Vice-President of the JFA since 2006.

The Press Round-up

(The US Women’s national football team defeated reigning FIFA Women’s World Cup holders Japan 4-1 in the Sweden Invitational tournament on 18 June, a clash heavily anticipated to be the showpiece at London 2012)

The Nadeshiko crashed to a 4-1 defeat against the United States women’s national team in Halmstad, Sweden, the first of their two matches in the 2012 Sweden Invitational tournament. While the US dominated the contest, firing nine of their seventeen shots on target compared to just two in nine for Japan, the physicality of the US team raised eyebrows, with the friendly nature of the competition undermined by a number of challenges which would ordinarily have met with cards, one ending Rumi Utsugi’s participation in the match as she was stretchered off the field.

Two goals apiece from Alex Morgan and Andy Wambach gave the US all three points, Yuki Nagasato the scorer of Japan’s only goal in a match which is a prelude to the likely 2012 London Olympic final. The Nadeshiko conclude their time in Sweden against the hosts on 20 June.

The Asahi Shimbun reports that the utility defender Hajime Hosogai, whose loan at FC Augsburg ends on June 15, has made it clear that he wishes to fight for a position at Bayer Leverkusen. The 28-year old, who joined the Werkself at the end of 2010 from Urawa Red Diamonds, was promptly loaned out to the Markus Weinzierl side which finished in fourteenth position in the Bundesliga, and made 32 appearances in the 2011/12 season, scoring three goals.

Ricardo Lobo is on his way to J.League Division 2 side JEF United Chiba in a loan deal from Kashiwa Reysol, notes the Sankei Shimbun. The 28-year old Brazilian striker has failed to make an impression at the Sun Kings since his move from Tochigi SC, unable to displace either Junya Tanaka or Masato Kudo in manager Nelsinho’s affections as they strive to defend the title won in 2011, making only four starts in seven appearances. The deal runs until the end of the calendar year.

In an attempt to lift themselves out of trouble near the bottom of J.League Division 1, seventeenth-placed Gamba Osaka have turned to former forward Leandro to score the goals that will help stave off relegation, adds the Sankei Shimbun. The striker from São Paulo was successful in his time at the Suita club prior to his move to Saudi Arabian giants Al-Sadd in 2009, adding to prosperous times at Vissel Kobe and Montedio Yamagata, and the 27-year old returns to Gamba on a loan deal worth approximately JPY 200m , with the contract expiring in July 2013. The logic of the move is questionable, however, a slip-shod defence clear the most glaring priority for Masanobu Matsunami having shipped fourteen goals in their last seven matches at home and showing little sign of transformation since the Gamba legend took control.

And finally, Hisato Sato is the new President of the Professional Football Players Association, elected to a two-year term on 18 June as Toshiya Fujita’s position expired. The timing of the announcement came as the Sanfrecce Hiroshima forward was publicly reprimanded for statements made regarding a referee’s performance, and required to submit a formal apology for calling the official ‘crazy’ as part of his punishment.

No room for Kagawa as Sekizuka names provisional London 2012 squad

Shinji Kagawa’s versatility across attacking midfield and goal-scoring prowess will not be on display at the London 2012 Men’s Olympic football tournament, as he was omitted Thursday from Takashi Sekizuka’s 35-strong provisional squad for the competition as expected.

The senior international, who still qualifies as an Under-23 player, can now focus wholly on completing his transfer to the English Premier League side Manchester United and the forthcoming pre-season, as they attempt to wrest back a title so dramatically won by their neighbors Manchester City on the final day of the 2011/12 campaign.

There is also no place in the roster for the second of Japan’s two internationally acclaimed players, with the Under-23 national team head coach opting to bolster his options in goal and defense rather than seeking to exploit the playmaking talents of Keisuke Honda as one of his three over-age players. Akihiro Hayashi, whose presence and performances between the posts have helped a goal-shy Shimizu S-Pulse to fourth position in the J-League and the joint best defensive record in the division, is one of four goalkeepers named in the squad, the S-Pa stopper’s selection made on the basis that neither Shunsuke Ando or Takuya Masuda are regular choices for their clubs, and ensuring that first-choice Shuichi Gonda benefits from the added competition.

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(Extended highlights of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group B clash between Japan and Jordan, the last occasion in which the two teams met. Maya Yoshida headed an equaliser in stoppage time, cancelling out the 45th minute Abdel Fattah strike which Yoshida diverted past Eiji Kawashima. The Saitama Stadium provides the stage for the second of Japan’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Fourth Round qualification matches on Friday 8 June)

As the Samurai Blue countdown to Friday’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification match against Jordan, the Sankei Shimbun provides a note of caution for Japan. Head Coach Adnan Hamad guided Al-Nashama to a 1-1 draw in Iraq in their opening Group B match, and while he was sacked as manager of the Iraq national team in 2008 having failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he took the Under-23 side to fourth place at the 2004 Olympic Games. In their two previous meetings Japan has not won in ordinary time, coming from behind in a penalty shootout in their 2004 AFC Asian Cup quarter-final, and in the 2011 competition Maya Yoshida headied an equaliser in the 92nd minute to ensure their opening Group B game ended in a 1-1 draw, having seen his outstretched boot deflect Abdel Fattah’s shot beyond Eiji Kawashima before half-time. Japan eventually topped the group, but only by virtue of a superior goal difference to Jordan.

In positive news for the national team, the Asahi Shimbun reports that they have moved up seven places in the latest FIFA World Rankings. The Samurai Blue now sit in 23rd position, their highest position since January 2012, and with AFC rivals dropping three spaces to 24th, they now rank the highest of any nation in the confederation.

Hiromi Hara, Technical Director for the Japanese national team, has confirmed that there will be no training camp for the Under-23 Samurai Blue prior to the team departing for the London 2012 Games, according to the Sankei Shimbun. Citing a very busy domestic schedule and resting potential squad members based overseas, final preparations will instead be made in advance of the send-off match versus New Zealand on July 11, part of a double-header at the National Olympic Stadium in which the Nadeshiko will host Australia.

And finally, Kashiwa Reysol forward and former Japan international Hideaki Kitajima has agreed a loan move to J.League Division Two side Roasso Kumamoto. The 33-year old from Chiba has made just five appearances for the Sun Kings in 2012, three of those in the starting line-up, and Kitajima said enthusiasm for the move was borne out of wanting to play. Beyond three years at Shimizu S-Pulse between 2003 and 2005, Kitajima has been at Reysol since 1997, making 209 total appearances for both sides and scoring 43 goals in that time. Joining Roasso at the end of July, the loan is scheduled to finish at the end of the 2012 season, and his presence will doubtless be welcomed by a team struggling for goals, in a division where only three teams have netted fewer times.

The Press Round-up

(The first-half from the Young Nadeshiko’s Group C fixture versus England in the 2010 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup, their only victory of a tournament from which they exited at the group stage, finishing third behind Mexico and Nigeria. Japan will once again meet Mexico in the group stage in the 2012 tournament, doing battle with El Tricolor at the Miyagi Stadium on 19 August. The second period can be viewed here)

In the biggest news of the day, Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund both announced separately that terms have been agreed for the transfer of the Bundesglia club and Japan international Shinji Kagawa to the English Premier League side. The Asahi Shimbun notes that while full details have not been disclosed, the expected transfer fee is in the region of £12 million, rising to a potential £18 million. The deal is subject to a medical and acquiring the necessary work permit for the UK, together with Kagawa formally signing the contact. While the attacking midfielder does not strictly meet the criteria necessary to obtain a work permit on the basis of not having made the requisite number of appearances for the Samurai Blue, it is expected to be a formality on ‘exceptional talent’ grounds.

The 23-year old Kobe native confirmed in remarks to reports at a training session in Saitama that he is yet to sign any contract, adding that he is not willing to discuss his own future and wants to focus instead on the national side and their two remaining 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in June. Japan meet Jordan on Friday, before flying to Brisbane for the 12 June tie against Australia.

The Asahi Shimbun also reports that the Japan Football Association has announced a 21-strong squad for the Nadeshiko’s trip to Sweden, where they will participate in the 2012 Sweden Invitational. Japan will contest the round-robin tournament with their fellow London 2012 Group F rivals and the United States, who they will meet in a major final for the second time in as many years if the seedings for the competition hold true, having triumphed over Team USA in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Homare Sawa, who has fully recovered after being struck down with benign paroxysmal postural vertigo, is included in the travelling party together with 2011 AFC Women’s Player of the Year and captain Aya Miyama, while Ami Otaki receives her first call up to the senior team. The full squad is as follows:

GK Miho Fukumoto Okayama Yunogo Belle
GK Ayumi Kaihori INAC Leonessa
DF Yukari Kinga INAC Leonessa
DF Kyoko Yano Urawa Reds Ladies
DF Azusa Iwashimizu NTV Beleza
DF Aya Sameshima Montpellier HSC
DF Saori Ariyoshi NTV Beleza
DF Saki Kumagai 1. FFC Frankfurt
MF Homare Sawa INAC Leonessa
MF Aya Miyama Okayama Yunogo Belle
MF Nahomi Kawasumi INAC Leonessa
MF Megumi Kamionobe Albirex Niigata Ladies
MF Mizuho Sakaguchi NTV Beleza
MF Asuna Tanaka INAC Leonessa
MF Rumi Utsugi Montpellier HSC
FW Kozue Ando FCR 2001 Duisburg
FW Shinobu Ohno INAC Leonessa
FW Yuki Nagasato 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam
FW Ami Otaki Olympique Lyonnais
FW Megumi Takase INAC Leonessa
FW Mana Iwabuchi NTV Beleza

The Yomiuri Shimbun adds that the squad for the London 2012 Olympic Games will then need to be reduced to eighteen players, with those getting the nod for the trip to London to be decided by manager Norio Sasaki in early July.

Japan are set to play Mexico, Switzerland and New Zealand in the FIFA Women’s Under-20 World Cup. With Homare Sawa presiding over the draw, the Young Nadeshiko will begin their Group A campaign against Mexico on 19 August at the Miyagi Stadium, where they will meet New Zealand three days later, before playing the Swiss in their third and final group match at the National Olympic Stadium on 26 August. Should Japan progress to the quarter-final stage, they will meet one of Brazil, South Korea, Italy or Nigeria on 30 August. The World Cup final takes place on 8 September at the National Olympic Stadium.

And finally, Zdenko Verdenik is the new manager at Omiya Ardija. The 63-year old, who had spells in charge at JEF United, Nagoya Grampus and Vegalta Sendai between 2000 and 2004, remarked that he was delighted to be working at a J.League Division 1 club again, and will take the reins at the Squirrels prior to their Matchday Fourteen clash against Kashima Antlers on 16 June.