The 2016 J-League relegation battle will have fans on the edge of their seats until the final matchday. Avispa Fukuoka are consigned to relegation already, being 10 points beyond safety with three games remaining, and Shonan Bellmare will need a miracle also as they stand 8 points from safety. So the battle has come down to four teams and one relegation spot. Jubilo Iwata are in the most enviable position of the lot with four points between them and relegation, while Kofu have been shoved back into the bottom three after a loss and wins for Nagoya and Niigata.
Using our FREE PRINTABLE table most J-League fans would agree Albirex Niigata have the toughest run in. Nagoya Grampus are in form and look set to make a remarkable escape after being seven points adrift of safety in round 27. The respected Aichi club spectacularly sacked their manager and brought in Bosky Djurovski in August. Not long after the new manager arrived, club old boy Tulio was signed on a short term contract with the aim of restoring “. . . Grampus’ former strength,” and saving them from relegation. Nagoya have since won three from four J-League matches.
Though Niigata have the toughest run in, Jubilo aren’t far behind. The Shizuoka club face the resurgent Nagoya today, before hosting Urawa then travelling to Sendai. On the J-Talk Podcast Alan Gibson (J Soccer editor) predicted that Jubilo “. . . might scrape a draw in Sendai,” but there weren’t any other points likely. It should be known that Gibson also predicted Nagoya’s survival as far back as Round 28. Jubilo’s remaining fixtures only act to magnify the importance of today’s clash at Toyota Stadium in Nagoya. They must get something from this match as the chasing pack looms large.
Ventforet Kofu have the luxury of playing already relegated Avispa Fukuoka today. Next week they back up against 17th placed Shonan Bellmare. Kofu may well look at these two matches as their ticket to J1 safety. Two wins will take them to 34 points, a total that will likely see them surpass Albirex Niigata.
Niigata have the toughest task with three J-League heavyweights to play over the final three rounds. Amazingly Niigata have their strongest chance to compete in the Asian Champions League in years as they have won their way to the Emperor’s Cup Quarter Finals. The one thing in Niigata’s favour in the battle for survival is the fact their opponents have little to play for apart from Urawa who look to secure the 2nd Stage trophy. In the weeks ahead they play Gamba who are 8 points adrift of a place in the bizarre J-League Finals Series. While in the final round they host Hiroshima who are set for a mid-table finish.
For Niigata who have made a habit of narrowly surviving relegation over the years, it would be easiest to imagine Kofu falling short and only winning one of their final three matches. This would allow Niigata to pull off another survival story with just a draw and their superior goal difference. Meanwhile, tune in today from 4pm Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time to track the relegation battle as it reaches its crescendo.