Whilst J1 wrapped up last Saturday (well, the regular season wrapped up, the ‘Championship Stage’ is yet to come….), the promotion & relegation races in the Japanese second tier are really heating up. Here, we look at the top and bottom of J2, and assess each team’s chances in the end of season reckoning.

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The promotion race

This weekend’s results:

  • Tokushima Vortis 2-1 Consadole Sapporo
  • Matsumoto Yamaga 2-0 Tokyo Verdy
  • Kamatamare Sanuki 1-2 Shimizu S-Pulse

Current table: 

  1. Consadole Sapporo   81 pts (+31)
  2. Matsumoto Yamaga    81 pts (+30)
  3. Shimizu S-Pulse   78 pts (+46)

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Sapporo’s defeat in Tokushima was their third in the last four outings, so I think we can officially call it more than a blip. The good news is that they are still in control of their own destiny – a result of building up such a commanding lead during the summer. They face a massive game next Saturday when they travel to the Fukuari to face the wildly unpredictable JEF United Chiba. If they win there, they will fancy their chances to clinch the championship when they host Zweigen Kanazawa on the final day.

Talk about breathing down their necks – Matsumoto Yamaga are currently 16 games unbeaten, while Shimizu S-Pulse, replete with Chong Tese & Genki Omae, are laying waste to all that stand in their way. The men from Shizuoka have won their last seven games, and ten of their last eleven. Their sole defeat in that sequence? A 0-1 reverse at Matsumoto Yamaga. Yasuharu Sorimachi’s charges have been the Yamaga most thought would appear this year – hard working with an ability to avoid defeat & grind out wins. Shimizu have been spectacular since Genki Omae returned from a scary looking injury and his partnership with North Korean forward Chong Tese, who has scored a league leading 24 goals so far, has proved far too much for J2 defences to deal with. It is difficult to see anyone stopping their roll.

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Final games: 

  • Sapporo – JEF United (A), Kanazawa (H)
  • Matsumoto – Machida (A), Yokohama FC (H)
  • Shimizu – Okayama (H), Tokushima (A)

Prediction:

Don’t be daft – no-one wins when they try and predict J2.

 

The play-offs

This weekend’s results:

  • Cerezo Osaka 1-0 Ehime FC
  • Fagiano Okayama 1-2 Mito Hollyhock
  • Roasso Kumamoto 1-2 Kyoto Sanga
  • FC Gifu 2-0 Yokohama FC
  • Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-3 Machida Zelvia

Current table:

  • 4. Cerezo Osaka  72  (+14)
  • 5. Kyoto Sanga   66 (+12)
  • 6. Fagiano Okayama  64 (+15)
  • ______________________ (play-off line)
  • 7. Machida Zelvia  59  (+7)
  • 8. Yokohama FC   58  (+0)

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Cerezo are in after their rather fortunate win at home to Ehime on Sunday evening and they will look to secure a home play-off semi final by claiming one point from their remaining two games. Kyoto, despite a recent wobble, are also in, and they are looking at an away play-off semi-final. (In the J2 promotion play-offs, 3rd & 4th teams host the 5th & 6th placed teams in a one off semi final game. The highest placed team to progress then hosts the play-off final).

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The only other spot up for grabs is the final play-off place. Okayama missed the chance to secure it when they lost at home on Sunday afternoon, but they are five points ahead of Machida Zelvia with only two games left. They should secure that spot, and although a game at S-Pulse doesn’t look like the time to do it, the fact that Machida are playing Matsumoto means that it could work that they don’t need to win at Nihondaira.

Of course, if Machida do get into the play-offs, I don’t actually think they can participate because their ground isn’t up to J1 standards, and thus aren’t eligible for promotion. Yokohama FC are still mathematically eligible for the play-offs, but they need a highly unlikely set of results to happen for them to sneak into the top six. It isn’t going to happen. Sorry Kazu.

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Key games:

  • Okayama – S-Pulse (A), Gunma (H)
  • Machida – Matsumoto (H), Ehime (A)

 

The relegation zone

Last weekend’s results:

  • Zweigen Kanazawa 1-2 JEF United
  • Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-3 Machida Zelvia
  • FC Gifu 2-0 Yokohama FC
  • Kamatamare Sanuki 1-2 Shimizu S-Pulse

Current table:

  • 19. FC Gifu                              40 (-25)
  • 20. Kamatamare Sanuki     39 (-20)
  • ________________________
  • 21. Giravanz Kitakyushu    37 (-18)
  • ________________________
  • 22. Zweigen Kanazawa        37 (-24)

Two absolutely back-breaking results for Kanazawa & Kitakyushu. Kanazawa lost a game they really should have won against JEF, while Kitakyushu looked all at sea against Yuki Nakashima & Machida Zelvia. Sanuki were the latest team to get speared by the rampant Chong Tese, leaving FC Gifu as the big winners of the weekend. Their valiant 2-0 win against play-off chasing Yokohama FC came at the most opportune time and will fill Megumu Yoshida’s men with confidence for the final two games.

Kanazawa now face the very difficult scenario of having to win at least one of their final two away games to survive. Given that their final game is away in Sapporo, one thinks that they simply must beat Yokohama FC next Saturday. Yokohama (as we’ve already discussed) are more-or-less eliminated from play-off contention and have an Emperor’s Cup tie in midweek so there is a question mark as to their condition heading into Saturday.

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Kitakyushu host Mito on Saturday in what will be their final game at their current Honjo home – they are set to move into their new, purpose built stadium near Kokura station in time for the start of the 2017 season. They won’t want their first season in their fine new arena to be in J3, making their home game against Mito vital. After Mito, Kitakyushu head for a final day matchup with Montedio Yamagata. While not mathematically safe just yet, Yamagata probably are realistically safe, but they’ve had a wretched year, and whether they’ll have eyes for their winter holiday come the last weekend will be an interesting point.

Kamatamare Sanuki have two games against teams with nothing to play for, but can be classed as tricky opponents. Both Nagasaki & JEF have been difficult to read this year – Nagasaki being very stoic, with JEF being unpredictable. In the return fixtures this year, Sanuki drew against Nagasaki & JEF, but it is worth asking whether two draws would be enough to see them safe. They won’t have liked seeing JEF come from behind to beat Kanazawa last Sunday evening. JEF can still play well when they want to.

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From being bottom on Thursday evening, FC Gifu are suddenly the team with momentum after wins against Gunma & Yokohama. Gifu head to Kumamoto next Saturday armed with Brazilian forward in superb form, having scored three goals in his last two games. Gifu have won their last two visits to Kumamoto and a third win in three years will go a long way to securing J2 football – and a lucrative derby against Nagoya Grampus – in 2017.

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Key games:

  • FC Gifu – Kumamoto (A), Tokyo Verdy (H)
  • Sanuki – Nagasaki (A), JEF United (H)
  • Kitakyushu – Mito (H), Yamagata (A)
  • Kanazawa – Yokohama FC (A), Sapporo (A)

The next J2 games take place on Saturday November 12th

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