This year the J-League has reverted to a two stage format to decide who is Japanese soccer’s champion club side. A similar two stage system had been in place during the 90s and early 2000s, but the new system incorporates a convoluted mathematical process which determines if just 3 teams or a possible 5 teams contests the finals.
Cutting through the many permutations, this year it appears there will be just three teams in the finals. Making up those teams will be Urawa (1st Stage winners), Hiroshima (likely 2nd Stage winners) and Gamba Osaka the likely 3rd placegetters in the regular season. Here, the term regular season applies to the full 34 matches rather than the 17 matches that constitutes a stage.
While many argue that an end of season finals series is an unfair way to decide a champion, East Asian Soccer disagrees. Most who are opponents of finals systems are caught up in nostalgic reminiscence of ‘what football is meant to be.’
They argue that it’s unfair on the team that slogged away all season and won the most matches. However, they’re forgetting that all teams and players involved in competitions with end of season finals are aware at the beginning of the season, that the champion is not decided in a ‘first past the post’ manner. Unfair, maybe if you didn’t read the rules.
In 2015 the 1st Stage winner was Urawa Reds. We’re now just two matches from the end of the 2nd Stage, and Hiroshima has a handy three point lead, buttressed by a superior goal difference over closest opponent Kashima.
Even if the unthinkable happened and Hiroshima failed to take three points from their last two matches (and Kashima won both or took four points), the ‘purple archers’ would still be involved in the finals series as the confusing system allows for 2nd and 3rd from the entire/regular season to participate in the finals also.
Looking at the regular season ladder, Sanfrecce Hiroshima are guaranteed a place in the finals, Kashima are not. The only route to the finals for Kashima is via a 2nd Stage winner ticket. The Antlers will need to take four points more than Hiroshima over the last two matches.
2014 treble winners Gamba Osaka are far from assured a place in the finals either. Their only route to the finals is via a 3rd place finish on the regular season ladder.
The Kansai club will have their work cut out for them, facing Hiroshima and Yamagata, while the chasing FC Tokyo meets Kashiwa and Sagan Tosu.
Gamba will also be battling demons after recent losses in both the league cup and Asian Champions League against Kashima and Guangzhou Evergrande respectively. FC Tokyo could well collect all six points as opponents Kashiwa are resigned to a mid-table finish and Sagan Tosu are safe from relegation with nothing else to play for.
All Round 33 fixtures kick off at 2pm Japan time.