Wednesday, 17 July 2024

J League History: 2006

The 2006 season was a year of ups and downs for football in Japan. Although the J.League has established its popularity nationwide, and on the avearge teams were more profitable than they have ever been, a number of factors put the lid on any euphoria that might have developed. Or at least that was the case in most of the country. In Urawa -- where the Reds won their first league title in history, fans went wild, generating the largest-ever turnout for a single season, of 774,749 (an average of over 45,000 per match). But the gloom created by the National Team's weak performance at the World Cup in Germany was difficult to overcome completely. In addition, we noted the first signs that despair at the end of a long, single-stage season (which meant that many clubs were out of the running by August or September). As a result, a number of teams saw attendances drop from the previous season. Despite the fact that the title race between the Reds and Gamba Osaka went down to the wire, fan interest clearly waned in the final weeks of the season -- a problem that we have long anticipated, and which the league will need to address eventually, if it wants to preserve the high level of parity thatthe J.League enjoyed in the past.

. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
1 Urawa Reds 65 31 20 5 6 61 26 35
2 Gamba Osaka 62 31 19 5 7 74 42 32
3 Kawasaki Frontale 61 31 18 7 6 75 48 27
4 Shimizu S-Pulse 54 31 16 6 9 53 37 16
5 Jubilo Iwata 52 31 15 7 9 64 47 17
6 Kashima Antlers 52 31 16 4 11 52 49 3
7 Oita Trinita 44 31 12 8 11 45 42 3
8 Albirex Niigata 42 31 12 6 13 43 56 -13
9 JEF United 41 31 12 5 14 54 53 1
10 Nagoya Grampus 41 31 11 8 12 47 48 -1
11 Ventforet Kofu 41 31 12 5 14 39 57 -18
12 Yokohama Marinos 39 31 11 6 14 45 41 4
13 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 39 31 11 6 14 47 52 -5
14 FC Tokyo 39 31 12 3 16 54 63 -9
15 Omiya Ardija 35 31 10 5 16 37 53 -16
16 Cerezo Osaka 26 31 6 8 17 42 64 -22
17 Avispa Fukuoka 25 31 5 10 16 30 52 -22
18 Kyoto Purple Sanga 22 31 4 10 17 35 67 -32


Promotion/Relegation Series

6 Dec Vissel Kobe 0 - 0 Avispa Fukuoka
 -   -
9 Dec Avispa Fukuoka 1 - 1 Vissel Kobe
Takanori Nunobe (84')   Yusuke Kondo (60')


Scoring Leaders

Rank Player Team Goals (PKs) Shots
1 Washington Urawa Reds 26 (4) 106
1 Magno Alves Gamba Osaka 26 (0) 162
3 Juninho Kawasaki Frontale 20 (3) 108
4 Lucas Severino FC Tokyo 18 (4) 94
4 Kazuki Ganaha Kawasaki Frontale 18 (1) 52
4 Hisato Sato Sanfrecce Hiroshima 18 (0) 78
7 Cho Jae-Jin Shimizu S-Pulse 16 (2) 95
7 Ryuji Bando Gamba Osaka 16 (0) 54
7 Ueslei Sanfrecce Hiroshima 16 (1) 98
10 Ryoichi Maeda Jubilo Iwata 15 (1) 58
11 Bare Ventforet Kofu 14 (2) 114
11 Paulinho Jubilo Iwata 14 (1) 97
13 Hiroyuki Taniguchi Kawasaki Frontale 13 (0) 46
14 Seiichiro Maki JEF United 12 (0) 55
14 Daiki Takamatsu Oita Trinita 12 (2) 73


J.League Awards, 2005

MVP Marcus Tulio Tanaka 25 Urawa Reds
Rookie of the Year Jungo Fujimoto 22 Shimizu S-Pulse
Golden Boot Washington 31 Urawa Reds
Golden Boot Magno Alves 30 Gamba Osaka
Coach of the Year Guido Buchwald 45 Urawa Reds

Best Eleven

GK Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi 31 Jubilo Iwata
DF Marcus Tulio Tanaka 25 Urawa Reds
Akira Kaji 26 Gamba Osaka
Satoru Yamaguchi 28 Gamba Osaka
MF Keita Suzuki 25 Urawa Reds
Yuki Abe 25 JEF United
Yasuhiro Endo 26 Gamba Osaka
Hiroyuki Taniguchi 21 Kawasaki Frontale
Kengo Nakamura 26 Kawasaki Frontale
FW Washington 31 Urawa Reds
Magno Alves 30 Gamba Osaka

Another reason why the 2006 season was a bit less than "euphoric" was that the J.League's so-called "Hundred Year Plan" experienced a minor setback, when no teams were able to meet the requirements for J.League entry at the end of the year. In both 2004 and 2005, new teams joined the J.League. This created a great deal of intrest in new regional markets, and stimulated other towns and cities to try to develop J.League teams of their own. Unfortunately, the only team that managed to meet all of the organizational requirements (finances, stadium size, facilities, sponsors, etc) before the end of the year was Rosso Kumamoto, and Rosso's fourth-place finish in the JFL precluded any chance of promotion in 2006. Nevertheless, there were abundant indications of football's development throughout Japan, with new independent clubs in places such as Tochigi, Fukushima and Gifu joining the chase for a J.League position.


In the J.League's top division, meanwhile, the second year of play under a single stage format to the season brought the first signs of concern about how this may affect the finances of mid-table clubs. For example, even though many individual clubs increased their ticket sales, the average attendance per match declined for the second year in a row, pulled down by weak contributions from clubs in the bottom half of the table.


2006 was clearly "The Year of the Reds",. Urawa started off 2006 by winning the Emperor's Cup on New Year's Day 2006 and closed it out by defending the title on New Year's Day 2007. In between, the fanatically well-supported club set an attendance record, and claimed its first league title on the final week of the season. The only piece of silverware that escaped Urawa, the Nabisco (League) Cup, was won by JEF United who successfully defended the title that they won in 2005.


There were a number of very positive surprises from teams that have struggled in recent years. Kawasaki Frontale probably made the most impressive run of any "dark horse", finishing in second place behind the Reds. This was the first time that the Blue Dolphins of Kanagawa ever that they have finished above mid-table. A towering defensive line and two impressive young defensive midfielders characterised a Frontale team that was very "uncharacteristic" of the J.League. Yet even though their defence played an important role, it was the team's high-scoring offence that carried them to second place, with three Frontale players finishing among the scoring leaders.


Ventforet Kofu -- a tiny J2 club from the smallest town to host a J.League franchise, funded mainly by donations from local mom-and-pop stores -- also put on a fairly impressive performance, thanks to a stunning record of home victories. Over the course of the season, Ventforet won home matches against Frontale, Gamba and Antlers, and posted draws against the Reds and Jubilo. A late slump, after they had already ensured themselves of a place in the J1 next season, caused them to finish in 14th place. But for a tiny home town team with the smallest budget in the J1, this was still quite impressive.


On the other side of Mt. Fuji, Shimizu S-Pulse also had a fine year, extending the rebound that they started in 2005 under coach Kenta Hasegawa. S-Pulse finished in fourth place, after remaining on the heels of the top contenders all season long. With one of the youngest starting lineups in the league, S-Pulse looked forward to even greater success in coming years.


At the opposite end of the table, two of the three teams that were promoted in 2006 met an immediate demise. Kyoto Purple Sanga continued their imitation of a yo-yo, going up and back down for the third time in their short team history. Avispa Fukuoka struggled to find the net all season long, and though their defence almost helped them fight their way out of the relegation zone, their lack of offence killed them in the promotion/relegation playoff. The Yellowjackets drew 0-0 at Vissel Kobe, and drew 1-1 at home, falling into the J2 on away goals.


The biggest collapse, however, came in south Osaka where Cerezo went from near-champions in 2005 to league doormat in 2006. Cerezo's relegation deprived both of Japan's biggest cities of their "derby matches" for the 2007 season. In Tokyo, Verdy remained in the J2 while FC Tokyo maintained a J1 spot. In Osaka, Cerezo was relegated to division 2, while Gamba continued to fight it out at the top end of the J1. On the other hand, Yokohama FC -- built from the ashes of the Yokohama Flugels team that collapsed in 1999 -- earned promotion to the J1, thus bringing derby matches back to Yokohama in 2007, for the first time this century.