Wednesday, August 5, 2009

J2 rumbles on despite All-Star break

J2 rumbles on despite All-Star break.
The top flight of Japanese football breaks this weekend as the J. League All-Star select travels to Incheon to take on their South Korean counterparts in the annual JOMO Cup.

There's no such pause in the 51-game marathon that is J2, however, with the second tier of the Japanese game enjoying a full midweek round of action on August 5.


With the J. League looking to penetrate those parts of the sports market denied regular access to the popular baseball and sumo circuits, three new teams in the form of Kataller Toyama, Fagiano Okayama and Tochigi SC were admitted to J2 for the current campaign.

That brought the total number of teams to 18, but with J2 clubs relying heavily on gate takings to remain in business, it also prompted an unwieldy format that sees teams play certain clubs twice at home and once on the road.

A 51-game season might keep clubs with average attendances of around 3,000 afloat, but it's a palpably unfair way of deciding the potentially lucrative matter of promotion - with some of J2's big guns enjoying two home games against their direct promotion rivals.

Changes are likely afoot, not the least because Japan Football League clubs Gainare Tottori, Machida Zelvia, New Wave Kitakyushu and V-Varen Nagasaki have all been approved as J. League Associate Members.

That means that a professional third tier may not be far off, particularly with FC Gifu and Roasso Kumamoto having preceded Toyama, Okayama and Tochigi in recently gaining promotion from non-league football to J2.

Many of these provincial sides are more interested in representing their local communities in a nationwide competition than they are in winning silverware, while crowds of around 3,000 are enough to keep such outfits solvent.

Nevertheless with big guns Cerezo Osaka, Vegalta Sendai and Tokyo Verdy all itching to get back into the top flight, there's still plenty at stake in the fight to break out of J2.

Cerezo lead the way in the current campaign, but hot on their heels are former J1 clubs Ventforet Kofu, Sendai and Shonan Bellmare.

Mito Hollyhock are the league's surprise package in fifth, but there's no joy for former top flight clubs Consadole Sapporo and Avispa Fukuoka - currently languishing in mid-table - while Kazu Miura's Yokohama FC are rooted to the bottom of the standings.

Kataller Toyama lie a respectable ninth, while Fagiano Okayama and Tochigi SC occupy sixteenth and seventeenth place in what is their maiden professional season.

With twenty games still remaining there's plenty of time for Tokyo Verdy and Sagan Tosu to launch late bids for promotion, and with no relegation from J2, Yokohama FC can afford to write off what has been a forgettable campaign.

J1 might be taking a break, but with another full round of J2 action scheduled for August 9/10, there's still plenty of domestic football to occupy Japanese fans over the coming week.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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