It is not just the professional leagues that have (almost) finished, the regional league – and the race to ascend the Japanese football pyramid – also came to a climax in November. Regional connoisseur @GifuRichy tells us about how things turned out in the regional scene.
Fukui – Saurcos Fukui
After finishing first in the Hokushinetsu League for the last three years, Saurcos were unable to defend their title this year after losing out to rivals Artista Toubu, and finishing 2nd place overall. They still had a chance in making the Regional Champions League (RCL) if they could place well in the All Japan Shakaijin Tournament, but they were knocked out of the tournament in the 2nd Round by Veertien Mie 1-0, which means they will have to wait at least one more year before they have a shot at the JFL.
Mie – Suzuka Unlimited, Veertien Mie, FC Ise-Shima
FC Kariya ended up winning the Tokai League with room to spare in 2016 and therefore went directly into the RCL. Suzuka Unlimited, Veertien Mie and FC Ise-Shima all had to fight their way through the All Japan Shakaijin Tournament for a chance at making the RCL though.
FC Ise-Shima were no match for Kanto’s Esperansa SC going down 1-0 in the first round, and therefore were out of the running for RCL this year. Veertien Mie started off with a huge 9-0 win over Iwamizawa FC, fought hard to beat Saurcos Fukui 1-0, and showed their strength in a 2-0 win over Fukushima hopefuls Iwaki FC. In the fourth round they faced Mie rivals Suzuka Unlimited but were outclassed 2-1, meaning that they needed to finish 3rd to make the RCL. They did this by defeating Joyful Honda Tsukuba FC 2-1, gaining entry to the RCL.
Suzuka Unlimited powered past two of Kyoto’s finest, and RyuKei University before they defeated Veertien in the 4th round. This win meant they were guaranteed a top two finish and a ticket to the RCL. In the final they lost on penalties to Mitsubishi Mizushima after the scores were level at 2-2 after full-time.
In the RCL both Veertien and Suzuka, showed why the Tokai League was considered as the strongest regional league this year, as they both made it through to the final round without being defeated. Veertien were particularly impressive in their 3-0 defeat of Imabari FC, while Suzuka powered through the “pool of death” recording wins over Arterivo Wakayama, Tokyo 23 and J.FC Miyazaki.
In the RCL final series, Imabari FC came out on top spot with three wins from three. This meant that Veertien and Suzuka, who had both beaten Mitsubishi Mizushima, had to play each other on the final day for the final JFL spot. Suzuka, who hadn’t lost any of this year’s previous five encounters against Veertien, took the lead through a PK early on. Amazingly though, Veertien hit back with two goals before the halftime siren, and then another two more straight after the break, to leave Suzuka knocked down and out.
The 4-1 victory means that Veertien will probably be fighting it out in the JFL next year whereas Suzuka will face another grueling season in the Tokai 1st Division. Whether Suzuka can pick themselves up to bring the Mie rivalry to the JFL, or whether the two teams will eventually merge, is something that we will be following closely in the coming years.
Wakayama – Arterivo Wakayama
Arterivo topped the Kansai League by the skin of their teeth this year, meaning they gained automatic promotion to the RCL. They were unfortunately placed in the ‘pool of death’ with Suzuka Unlimited, Tokyo 23, and J.FC Miyazaki. They lost their first pool match to Suzuka Unlimited and this put them on the back foot from the get go, and they were subsequently unable to recover, crashing out of the competition without a win to their name.
Shimane – Matsue City, Dezolla Shimane
Both teams failed to win the Chugoku League and were therefore forced to play in the All Japan Shakaijin Tournament in order to make the RCL. Dezolla fell at the first hurdle, getting smashed by Kanto JFL hopefuls VONDS Ichihara FC 4-0, and with that their terrible season ended. Matsue City blasted past FC Ganju Iwate 5-1 and Asahi Steel Oita 2-1, but in the third round were knocked out by fellow Chugoku League rivals and eventual champions, Mitsubishi Mizushima 1-0. This was a bitter blow for Matsue who finished above Mizushima in the Chugoku League and now will have to wait at least another year for a shot at JFL.
Kochi – Kochi United
Kochi finished second to rivals Imabari FC in the Shikoku League but came into the All Japan Shakaijin Tournament with some confidence after they beat Imabari in their last league game of the season. Unfortunately though they met eventual champions Mitsubishi Mizushima in the first round and were knocked out in a thrilling 4-3 loss. Kochi will be hoping that 2017 bears better fortunes for the team.
Miyazaki – Tegevajaro Miyazaki, J.FC Miyazaki
Tegevajaro finished second in the Kyushu League meaning that their fate also relied on a placing in the All Japan Soccer Tournament. They didn’t make it far though as they were knocked out by Kanto’s FC Easy 02 1-0 in the first round. J.FC Miyazaki earned direct promotion to the RCL but were unlucky to be placed in the ‘pool of death’. They performed well above expectations, winning one game and drawing another, although this wasn’t enough to see them make it to the final stage. It was though a great effort by the team but they will be left wondering what might have been, had they had a whole season to prepare for the RCL.