We’re sure many of you didn’t miss the updates coming from JFA: J. League will soon restart in 2022 to make space for the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the first to take place outside the May-July window. Oh, and Japan have also to play the 2022 EAFF E-1 Championship (we wonder how the schedule will be about that one!). Unfortunately, one feature will miss.
The four relegations implemented for the 2021 season –to re-balance the number of squads in J1 – won’t be repeated. And if that’s normal for the first division with 18 squads, it doesn’t really make sense for J2. We were hoping at least to see 3 or a “2+1” formula confirmed for the second tier as well… instead, nothing. We’ll be back with 22 squads, just two relegations, and the playoffs’ winners facing a playout against J1 16-placed team (another madness).
That’s a shame. Not just because J3 will see 18 teams participating next year (so having 3 or 4 promotions will open more scenarios), but also because the relegation race was tense until the very end of 2021. The first official verdicts for drops came only on Matchday 41, with Ehime, Yamaga, and mostly Kitakyushu going down. It was eventful, with many matches decided at the last second.
And that’s what we wanna talk about. As a Christmas gift – in a strange Advent Calendar of 2021 –, we’ll talk about the real factor which decided the J2 relegation race: stoppage time. Yes, because when many six-pointers were going to the end, goals and missed chances changed drastically the fate of some teams while facing each other in this long run.
Enjoy this amazing trip through Memory Lane!
- Matchday 3 | Zweigen Kanazawa v. Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-1
- Honoya Shoji and the equalizer in the last minutes
In one of the many points lost in stoppage time, Giravanz were not able to hold on to their lead and conceded the draw to Zweigen. It’s just one of the numerous episodes Kitakyushu saw against them.
- Matchday 4 | SC Sagamihara v. Omiya Ardija 2-1
- Three points with a comeback
In their first-ever win in J2, SC Sagamihara unlocked their run for salvation by winning against Omiya. If Ardija started to show worrying signs in terms of solidity, the comeback started with a goal by Shu Hiramatsu in the 88th minute… but it was old fox Jungo Fujimoto clinching the three points with his sweet, curled left-footed magic.
- Matchday 10 | Matsumoto Yamaga v. Thespakusatsu Gunma 1-0
- A deflection to save the day
With Yamaga dead last and Shibata already risking his spot, Matsumoto clearly needed a win at home against Gunma. After a tight game, only a deflection by Yuta Ono on a desperate shot by Ryo Toyama gifted the home side the needed W.
- Matchday 12 | Tochigi SC v. Giravanz Kitakyushu 1-2
- Finally, a striker’s winner!
Giravanz suffered all season long with the lack of goals and the trouble in finding a reliable no. 9. Takamitsu Tomiyama seemed the first answer to that answer, having won the match in Tochigi at the last gasp of the game.
- Matchday 13 | Thespakusatsu Gunma v. Omiya Ardija 1-1
- A lifeline by Toshiya Tanaka
Thespakusatsu Gunma “drew their way” out of relegation zone in 2021, and that’s another game to bring as an exhibit. Again, Ardija squandered an advantage and Tanaka found the right header to clinch one point at home.
- Matchday 15 | Zweigen Kanazawa v. Thespakusatsu Gunma 1-1
- One of many late heroics for Gunma
If there’s a reason why Thespa improved by two spots their 2020 position, but they got fewer points in doing so, it’s because they were relentless. Another example came in Kanazawa, when Shiraishi proved to be the right man to clinch another crucial result.
- Matchday 30 | Zweigen Kanazawa v. Matsumoto Yamaga 1-1
- Young striker needed
Yamaga struggled a lot with scoring, despite having an impressive offensive department. Therefore, they had to rely on young Itsuki Enomoto to achieve a draw in Kanazawa, just when Zweigen were relaxed, also having a one-man advantage on Matsumoto.
- Matchday 32 | Giravanz Kitakyushu v. Thespakusatsu Gunma 2-2
- The comeback isn’t enough for the hosts
That’s solid proof of why Giravanz went down and Thespakusatsu slowly marched their way out of the drop zone. In this game, Gunma went ahead, but Kitakyushu came back to apparently clinch a fundamental win… until a header by Hiroto Hatao decided otherwise.
- Matchday 35 | SC Sagamihara v. Zweigen Kanazawa 1-1
With the season progressing, every point lost clearly had a different weight from before. SC Sagamihara know it well: Takagi’s side had a decent run since the managerial change and they were indeed leading at home against Zweigen, but they lost this lead at the last kick of the game… this was probably costly in the relegation race.
- Matchday 36 | Giravanz Kitakyushu v. SC Sagamihara 1-2
- Brazilian striker coming to the rescue
SC Sagamihara built their 2020 promotion from J3 on two elements: defensive solidity and a couple of good strikers. Unfortunately, last season hero Rômulo played just 9 games before leaving, and Yuri Mamute – the “oaky” no. 9 – featured just half of the time compared to Shu Hiramatsu.
Nevertheless, once they were down 1-0 in Kitakyushu, they relied on him to complete the comeback. Another crack on the wall of the (few) certainties at Giravanz, losing more points at home.
- Matchday 40 | Ehime FC v. SC Sagamihara 1-2
- The match of the season
If something is J2-ish, that’s the game. If there’s a match resuming the relegation race of this year, that’s it. And probably, in hindsight, that’s the game that decided the relegation race for good, since those two teams were the favorites to drop, and they were still in the run to save themselves with three games to go.
Ehime FC went ahead in the 83rd minute, apparently clinching a win that would put them above the relegation zone. Instead, first, an own goal by legend keeper Masahiro Okamoto equaled the context, then… that happened.
- Matchday 41 | SC Sagamihara v. Matsumoto Yamaga 1-1
- Only regrets in the end
What looked like a majestic chance for the great escape turned out to be the main regret for Sagamihara. With this win at Ehime, they seemed going full charge against Yamaga, who instead kept a sluggish run under Nanami.
A goal by Shunto Kodama would have put Sagamihara above the danger line, but an own goal by Seiji Kimura leveled again the game. The hosts had an incredible final chance to win the game, but they didn’t take it like the week before. And that’s all happened in stoppage time!
Time is your friend (if you use it well)
Looking at some tables, you realize how the relegation race was played on small details and stoppage time turned out to be the main one. If you look at the table without injury time, the relegation race would have tied, but with Zweigen Kanazawa far away from trouble. At the same time, Kitakyushu would have saved themselves, while Gunma would have followed Ehime FC, SC Sagamihara, and Matsumoto Yamaga in J3.
The same considerations can be done about the point conquered after falling behind and the ones kept after taking the lead in a match. In the first category, Sagamihara excelled, having taken 14 points from disadvantage situations (and they’ve been there 28 times!). Ehime FC and Thespakusatsu Gunma, for example, never took a win once they went down in the score line.
But they excelled in something else, since Ehime took the lead 18 times this season, but lost only three times in those cases. Same for Sagamihara (2 losses from 15 times when they went ahead) and Thespakusatsu (4 losses from 17 leading situations). The worst side? You got it: Giravanz Kitakyushu, who took the lead 18 times and translated that into victory only 7 times.
In the end, time can be your friend, if you can use it. Otherwise, you’ll play in J3 next year. And some of these clubs will, unfortunately. In a J2 minute, everything can happen.