What’s going in J3 I hear you (well, at least some of you anyway) say? No worries, we’ve got you covered as some of the brightest & most informed minds distill their thoughts on the third tier. We invited lower league aficionado @GifuRichy and the peerless @JMiraiBlog to discuss / answer some questions on the recent action in J3.

 

Regista – We are coming into the final stretch of the season. Who is looking good for promotion, and who is in contention for the play-off?

Richy – Starting at the top, Tochigi SC have had a stellar season to date after a rough start. They look like they might be feeling the pressure a bit, as showed in their 2-0 loss to Gamba U23 last week and their 1-1 draw with Ryukyu in the last round. In saying that though, their run in doesn’t look too bad, and if they can pick up expected points against Fukushima and Fujieda in the next two weeks then they will only be a step from automatic promotion.

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(from tochigisc.co.jp)

The battle for the promotion/relegation spot looks like it is between Oita Trinita, Kagoshima United and Kataller Toyama. It looks too much for AC Nagano Parceiro again this year, and Blaublitz Akita don’t have a J2 license, which will probably dampen their enthusiasm in these last remaining games.

Oita look like they have that little bit of extra class in them, and you can expect their home fans to get out in numbers to get them through the tough games. Kagoshima will put in a good fight but perhaps lack the experience of these crunch games, and Toyama, who are flying somewhat under the radar, are hitting form at the right end of the season and could be a serious threat should Oita and stumble.

I’ll stick my neck out and say Tochigi will gain automatic promotion, but will be very closely followed by Oita for the playoff, with Toyama and Kagoshima just a point or two behind them.

On a personal note, it would be great to see a J2/J3 playoff between Toyama and Kanazawa this year, as there isn’t much love between the two neighboring teams. Also a “Kyushu Derby” between Oita and Kitakyushu would be intriguing viewing.

 

J.Mirai – With the recent announcement of club licences for J1 and J2, the promotion race has been narrowed down to just four clubs – Tochigi SC, Oita Trinita, Kataller Toyama and Nagano Parceiro

Kagoshima United, currently in the race for the title, had applied as well but saw their application turned down due to the most common bane of promotion-seekers – their stadium. It seems like their fate was out of their hands and that better support from the local authorities is needed as the reason for their failure stemmed from the fact that their home ground is set to undergo renovation to prepare it for hosting the National Sports Festival in 2020. This work will lower their capacity below the required 10,000 for some matches and leaves them unable to confirm that they will be able to use the stadium for the required minimum of 80% of home matches. It’s a real shame that they have been potentially held back due to circumstances that weren’t completely in their control.

Of the remaining four, Tochigi are currently in the driving seat thanks in no small part to a record-breaking run of 17 matches without defeat that recently came to an end. Earlier in the season, I didn’t even include them in my promotion predictions due to their awful start so their current position is a testament to just how good they have been since then. Recent weeks have seen them run into a small bump, however, threatening their place at the top of the pile.

Oita may not have the headline-grabbing record to show for their efforts but they, along with Kagoshima, have been consistently plugging away and keeping up with the pace set by Tochigi to the point that they are remarkably only a couple of points from stealing top spot. The title and automatic promotion back to J2 is well within their reach and they must feel confident of grabbing it.

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Oita Trinita supporters

Toyama and Nagano are a little adrift of the promotion places but, with Toyama yet to face Tochigi and Nagano still having to play each of the current top three, there’s still plenty of opportunity for either or both to steal vital points and close the gap to drag themselves into the reckoning for at least a shot at the second-worst side in J2 if not the title.

Whatever happens over the next couple of months, I’m sure it will be an exciting conclusion to an interesting year.

 

Regista – Which team has impressed you this year?

J.Mirai – I’ve got to go with the easy answer – Kagoshima United. Their debut season in the J.League couldn’t have gone much better with them sitting in third at the time of writing, just five points off the top spot. They may not have blown the rest of the league away in the style that Yamaguchi did last season but for a club that didn’t even exist when J3 was being planned they have done exceptionally well to find themselves holding their own and even threatening to move up to the second tier throughout most of the season. They may have hit a setback with their licensing rejection but if they can take the hit on the chin and keep moving in their current direction then they will have a bright future ahead of them.

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(Oita v Kagoshima – from kufc.co.jp)

Honourable mentions to Tochigi SC, who I didn’t expect to be able to cope with relegation as well as they have done so have well and truly proven me wrong, and Blaublitz Akita, who have done great to keep themselves in the mix and would have been right up there challenging Tochigi but for a considerable blip over the summer.

 

Richy – Overall the standard of play in J3 has become a lot better this year, and most teams are more competitive than in 2015. Here are five teams that have impressed me:

-Tochigi SC looked like they might struggle in J3 this year but have come out and played very professionally while not getting too ahead of themselves (as Renofa did last year when they almost bottled it). With a limited budget they managed to keep the backbone of their 2015 squad and also probably made the J3 buy of the season when they picked up Tsugutoshi Oishi from Fujieda MYFC.

-Oita Trinita, like Tochigi, looked like they might struggle this year but have put in a lot of work in and around the community to get the people behind the team again. They regularly get crowds of over 5000 a game, and the people have been entertained by a young squad which likes attacking football.

-Kataller Toyama, after a pretty disastrous season last year, have really started moving forward as a team. Manager Yasutoshi Miura has put in some hard work and the team are defending much better now, while being more competitive.

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Kataller Toyama fans – in the “good old days” of J2

-Kagoshima United, who were just promoted last year, got the ball rolling straight away in their first J3 season. This can be attributed to Manager Tetsuya Asano, who has built a mighty defensive wall at the back for Kagoshima which has only been crushed once (By Gamba U23 who won 6-1 two weeks ago). Because of the teams performance, crowd numbers have been steady.

-Blaublitz Akita, who finished 8th in 2014 and 2015, have really improved this year and have shocked a few teams that they’ve played. Manager Shuichi Mase has built a young team that likes to run and isn’t shy about shooting. Unfortunately Akita don’t have a J2 license at this stage, but the good performances this year are already forcing the club to look ahead and try to fix their stadium issues and club finances so that the team will be able to be promoted in the next few years.

 

Regista – Nara Club, Azul Claro Numazu & Vanraure Hachinohe were recently awarded J3 licenses, meaning they’ll be eligible for promotion, should they satisfy the playing criteria. Which of those teams would you like to see make the leap to J3?

J.Mirai – Can I cheat and say all three? (editors note – I think Richy is going to cheat, so go for it) If I had to choose only one of the three then it’d have to be Nara but that’s only down to their penchant for a funky kit design and the fact that I have a slight bias towards clubs with more traditional names over those that use wacky portmanteaus. They aren’t quite ready just yet though so my burning desire to see them lock horns with Kashima in a J.League deer derby (deerby?) will have to wait.

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In reality, I’m keen to see all clubs with the ambition succeeding by reaching the promised land of the J.League. Numazu are so close now and I hope that they can drag themselves across the finishing line to set up a new Shizuoka derby in J3 next year against Fujieda. I’m still worried that even the football-mad Shizuoka isn’t big enough for three clubs so there is concern that expanding further to a fourth will only stretch the local fanbase even thinner but Numazu have been averaging numbers just as good as Fujieda’s for most of the season and their recent climb in numbers, culminating in the bumper crowd of 6,874 for the derby against Honda, suggests that they can at least hold their ground in the third tier.

I’m disappointed that it looks like Hachinohe will miss out this season after doing so well last year. They are in danger of following Nagano’s lead by finally sorting out their stadium problem – they christened their new Daihatsu Stadium with a 2-0 defeat at the weekend – only to be unable to keep achieving good results on the pitch. It would be nice to see Akita and Morioka gain a new J3 neighbour up at the northern tip of Honshu (though the travelling Ryukyu fans may not agree) so I hope they can get back into the top four next season if they don’t manage a miracle end to this campaign.

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Vanraure Hachinohe’s new Daihatsu Stadium

 

Richy – All three definitely!

Azul Claro look the most likely this year. Although they will become the fourth J-team from Shizuoka, it looks like demand is there (they regularly get crowds over 2000) and you could say there’s a better argument for them being in J3 than Fujieda MYFC who have struggled for fans for the last three years.

Vanraure Hachinohe, have a new stadium, a good social media presence, and Tiger Mask! They look like they will probably miss out this year, but having another team from Tohoku in J3 will definitely help heat up football in the north of Japan!

Nara Club, I think we all want to see their new jerseys on TV and in more media spotlight! They also are growing a good presence in the community and would be a welcome addition to J3.

 

Massive thanks to the dynamic duo of Richy & Mr.Mirai. Expect more from them as the J3 season draws to a close.

 

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