Typical….you wait ages for a @J2KantoBites article, and then two come along at once. But, Regista is more than happy to let the don of the J2 scene give his thoughts on some of the main stories on opening day. Enjoy!
Avispa Fukuoka vs Oita Trinita (Level-5 Stadium, 13:00 JST)
One of three games at 13:00 JST on the opening day, but this is definitely the pick of the bunch. Usually when a newly-relegated team hosts a newly-promoted one, a comfortable home win is expected. However, the fact that this game is the first of (many) Kyushu Derbies in J2 this season will add some unpredictability to the mix.
More encouragement for Oita could come from the fact that Fukuoka suffered a dreadful hangover last time they were relegated, eventually finishing a chastening 18th in 2012. Additionally, in a head-scratching piece of transfer news, the home side have also sold defender Kim Hyun-Hun to Yunnan Lijiang in the Chinese second division, just days before the campaign is due to begin.
I expect Fukuoka will get a winning start, but Oita might give them a few scares over the ninety minutes.
Machida Zelvia vs JEF United (Nozuta, 14:00 JST)
A case of evolution against revolution in Machida this Sunday. The home side agonizingly missed out on a top-six finish on goal difference last season, and will be aiming to make up for that disappointment this term. As expected after such an impressive campaign, most of the playing staff, plus boss Naoki Soma, are back for 2017. They’ll have to do some adjusting at center-back though: Calvin Jong-a-Pin and Shingo Arizono have left, while Shinnosuke Hatanaka has returned to parent club Tokyo Verdy. Goals could also be a problem for Zelvia, at least initially, since the talismanic Koji Suzuki is still injured. That means there is a lot of pressure on Yuki Nakashima and Yuya Nakamura to repeat last season’s goal-scoring heroics.
As usual for JEF, the baby may well have been thrown out with the bathwater after a disappointing mid-table finish in 2016. Argentine Juan Esnaider is the new man in charge, with fellow countryman Joaquin Larrivey the most eye-catching addition to the playing staff. Adjusting to the demands of the new coach, whilst absorbing the losses of Haruya Ide and Ado Onaiwu during the winter break, could signal a sluggish start for Greater Tokyo’s perennial underachievers.
I think a score draw is the most likely outcome in this game. Larrivey and company should get plenty of joy against Machida’s new-look back line, but Zelvia were a tough nut to crack at Nozuta last season and they should have enough character to (at least) avoid defeat. It should be an intriguing tussle between the (relatively) near neighbors.
Tokushima Vortis vs Tokyo Verdy (Pocari Sweat Stadium, 14:00 JST)
Normally a game between these two wouldn’t be anywhere near a ‘pick of the week’ list, but it’s not often that two Spanish managers go head-to-head in Japan: apparently, the last time this happened was in 1998. The affable-looking Ricardo Rodriguez is the new manager of Tokushima, and he has an interesting squad to work with. Serbian pair Nikola Vasiljevic (defender) and Nikola Asceric (forward) have signed up for 2017 (are all Serbian men called Nikola? And what is the female equivalent in Serbian?), where they will line up alongside veteran midfielder Carlinhos and pan-seasonal goal pest Daiki Watari. Kim Jong Pil (ex-Verdy and Shonan) and Leo Osaki (Yokohama FC) are also part of the Rodriguez project.
Verdy’s Spanish supremo is the rather more experienced Miguel Angel Lotina. As mentioned elsewhere on this very site, his primary claim to fame seems to be getting relegated from Spain’s top division with as many clubs as possible. However, considering last season’s drab 18th-place finish, and a lack of exciting transfer activity, it seems that he’ll be allowed to get on with the job under the bare minimum of pressure (at least initially). Only Hideo Hashimoto and Ryota Kajikawa stand out as new additions to the Verdy roster, but they should be alright defensively after retaining Akira Ibayashi, Koki Anzai and Kazuki Anzai over the winter break (plus welcoming back Hatanaka from Machida). Lotina’s problems are more likely to come at the other end, where chances and goals were at a premium in 2016.
I suspect Tokushima will be a bit too strong for Verdy this weekend, but I’d really like to be a fly on the wall for the post-game drinks between Rodriguez and Lotina (if that custom even exists in Japan/Spain).
Freshly-relegated: Nayoga will kick-off their maiden J2 campaign against Okayama at a sold-out Mizuho Stadium, while Shonan are on the road at Mito.
Another sell-out: Yokohama FC will be keen to display their Play-Off credentials in another full stadium, as the green hordes of Matsumoto fans descend on Mitsuzawa.
Lay down a marker: there’s a game between a Play-Off qualifier from last season (Kyoto), against a team looking to break into the top six this year (Yamagata), at Nishikyogoku. Will Kyoto’s Masashi Oguro have the energy to score against his employers from last season? Or will he leave it to any of Tulio, Kevin Oris and Sergio Escudero to give new Yamagata boss Takashi Kiyama a first-round headache?