Friday, March 5, 2010

New J. League campaign set to kick off

J.League.
The 18th season of the J. League kicks off on March 6 with a blockbuster showdown between defending champions Kashima Antlers and the league's best supported club Urawa Reds.

Kashima are chasing a record fourth successive J. League crown, and they'll go into the match full of confidence having wrapped up the 2009 title with a 1-0 win over Urawa at a packed Saitama Stadium.

The Reds will be itching to avenge that defeat, and coach Volker Finke has overseen plenty of changes ahead of the new campaign.

Talismanic Japan international Marcus Tulio Tanaka has departed for Nagoya Grampus - replaced by young Australian defender Matthew Spiranovic, while Burkina Faso international Wilfried Sanou arrives on loan from German club 1.FC Koeln.

Perhaps the most impressive arrival is former Sanfrecce Hiroshima playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi, and there is plenty of pressure on the 22-year-old midfielder to fire Urawa into the Asian Champions League places this season.

Elsewhere, Gamba Osaka take on Nagoya Grampus at Expo '70 Stadium in a rematch of the 2009 Emperor's Cup final.

It's a vastly different Nagoya side that will run out in Osaka, with the Aichi outfit embarking on a spending spree in the off-season having drafted in Mitsuru Chiyotanda, Colombian midfielder Danilson and Mu Kanazaki, although the real jewel in the crown is former Urawa defender Marcus Tulio Tanaka.

The round's other marquee match-up sees FC Tokyo take on neighbours Yokohama F. Marinos in front of what should be a vociferous crowd at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Marinos are celebrating the return of prodigal son Shunsuke Nakamura to the Tricolore, but they face a tough test against an FC Tokyo side that has made some astute signings in the form of ex-Oita Trinita defender Masato Morishige and former Albirex Niigata midfielder Toshihiro Matsushita.

In J2, the new season kicks off with a fascinating clash between Avispa Fukuoka and Ventforet Kofu on March 6, however most of the action takes place a day later.

Relegated sides Kashiwa Reysol and Oita Trinita face off at Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium, while newcomers Giravanz Kitakyushu make their J. League debut away at Yokohama FC.

Sagan Tosu host Consadole Sapporo in another high-profile match-up at Best Amenity Stadium, whilst fallen giants JEF United face up to life in the second tier with a testing trip to Roasso Kumamoto.

Shunsuke Nakamura returns to the J. LeagueFormer Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura has returned to his former stomping ground, with the 31-year-old signing on at port city side Yokohama F. Marinos.

The Japan international started his career at what was then Yokohama Marinos, and having played through the bitter merger of the city's two clubs, Nakamura subsequently embarked on a prolonged European tour.

Spells at Reggina in Italy and Celtic in Scotland were followed by a less successful stint at Spanish side Espanyol, and with the World Cup finals just around the corner, Nakamura has succumbed to the lure of turning out for his home-town team once again.

Japan finish Asian Cup qualifying with a winJapan finished their Asian Cup qualifying campaign with a routine 2-0 win over Bahrain in front of 38,042 fans at a packed Toyota Stadium.

CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda was the star of the show on his former home ground, although it was Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki who opened the scoring midway through the first half.

Honda finished proceedings with a goal deep into second half stoppage time, and the industrious midfielder did enough to suggest that he could prove a key player for Takeshi Okada's squad at the 2010 World Cup.

Both teams had already guaranteed their progression to the 2011 Asian Cup finals in Qatar.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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