Promoters are salivating. Again! Last season the J League title came down to the last day of the season with three teams in the running on the final day (Kashiwa, Nagoya, G Osaka). This year we’re three rounds out from the finish line and Hiroshima sit atop the table on 58 with Sendai in second on 56 points.
Looking at the draw it appears Hiroshima will have their toughest test for the remainder of the season this Saturday. They face an ailing Urawa Reds who are now fighting to snare the last of the ACL positions provided by the J League (the 4th to Emperors Cup winner). The team in purple will then face Cerezo Osaka and on the final day it’s off to Kobe. This final match against Kobe is the proverbial banana skin as Kobe are expected to be fighting for J1 survival on the final day. The team from the town famous for beef product in Japan (wagyu) is currently two points clear of both Gamba Osaka and Albirex Niigata, who are 3rd last and 2nd last (relegation positions). There will be plenty of motivation for Kobe on final day.
Meanwhile, Sendai face Kashima this weekend who are basking in the glory of their Nabisco Cup win and will probably be under the false pretense that they are safe of the relegation dog fight. In the penultimate round Sendai face their own banana skin, playing at home to Niigata. On the final day Sendai will travel to FC Tokyo who will have nothing to play for other than impressing the boss. Overall things are tilted slightly in the favour of the underdog and I make no secret of the fact I’d love to see them take the J League title.
The relegation battle continues provide to mystique and misery. Kobe are currently survivors on 36 points while Omiya still aren’t safe on 37 points despite their draw with Niigata and an upset victory against Kashiwa in recent weeks. In Omiya’s favour is the fact two of their opponents (Cerezo and Jubilo) are safe and have no ACL or title aspirations either. We can virtually call the Squirrels safe. However, Kashima Antlers (39 pts) aren’t safe. This weekend they face Sendai, which all things running to schedule will see the yellow team collect three points. Next week they will face Nagoya who are in the midst of the ACL battle with four other teams. But sparingly they are at home to Kashiwa on the last day who shouldn’t have any special motivation.
So this weekend we get a little closer to finding out who will take out the J1, who will secure an ACL spot and who can still call the J1 home. Can you imagine Gamba Osaka and Yasuhito Endo being relegated?