Wednesday, 24 July 2024

J League History: 2007

If the period from 2004 through 2006 was one of change, rebalancing and adjustment, then 2007 can be viewed as the year when the J.League found solid ground beneath its feet once again and clearly emerged into the next phase of its development. Although the National Team struggled through a phase of transition, and Japanese players in Europe (with the lone exception of Shunsuke Nakamura) found their growth stymied, the J.League emerged as a robust and economically successful model that every other league on the continent was eager to imitate. The year concluded with the Urawa Reds' appearance in the FIFA World Club Championships, where a hard-fought 1-0 loss to AC Milan impressed people around the world with a demonstration of how far Japanese football has come in one-and-a-half decades.

The Reds and Kawasaki Frontale finally banished doubts about the J.League's competitiveness relative to other leagues in Asia. Both teams took the ACL competition seriously, for once, and performed as one would expect from one of the foremost leagues in Asia. Meanwhile, teams like Gamba Osaka and Kashima Antlers were making sure that outsiders understand how closely matched the J.League is. On a less encouraging note, Urawa provided an object lesson for those who might seek to follow in their footsteps, staggering in exhaustion at the end of the campaign due to the excessive demands of contesting both the domestic league and the ACL. Members of the Asian Football Confederation seem to be getting the message, and in 2007 they began restructuring the competition to try to make it more professional. However, that will not ease the heavy burden of midweek travel and a congested match schedule.

As the ACL gains in visibility, J.League teams must carefully consider the tradeoffs between competitive results in the domestic league and a wholehearted effort in the ACL. By raising the ACL trophy in late November, the Reds established themselves as a powerhouse in Asia, and generated the sort of revenues which would encourage other J.League teams to take the ACL campaign seriously, in subsequent years. But Urawa proved to be too exhausted by the ACL campaign to claim another J.League title on top of their Asian trophy.


. Team Pts GP W D L GF GA G.Dif
1 Kashima Antlers 72 34 22 6 6 60 36 24
2 Urawa Reds 70 34 20 10 4 55 28 27
3 Gamba Osaka 67 34 19 10 5 71 37 34
4 Shimizu S-Pulse 61 34 18 7 9 53 36 17
5 Kawasaki Frontale 54 34 14 12 8 66 48 18
6 Albirex Niigata 51 34 15 6 13 48 47 1
7 Yokohama Marinos 50 34 14 8 12 54 35 19
8 Kashiwa Reysol 50 34 14 8 12 43 36 7
9 Jubilo Iwata 49 34 15 4 15 54 55 -1
10 Vissel Kobe 47 34 13 8 13 58 48 10
11 Nagoya Grampus 45 34 13 6 15 43 45 -2
12 FC Tokyo 45 34 14 3 17 49 58 -9
13 JEF United 42 34 12 6 16 51 56 -5
14 Oita Trinita 41 34 12 5 17 42 60 -18
15 Omiya Ardija 35 34 8 11 15 24 40 -16
16 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 32 34 8 8 18 44 71 -27
17 Ventforet Kofu 27 34 7 6 21 33 65 -32
18 Yokohama FC 16 34 4 4 26 19 66 -47


Promotion/Relegation Series

6 Dec Kyoto Sanga 2 - 1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima
Yutaka Tahara (28')
Yutaka Tahara (39')
  Ryuichi Hirashige (88') 
9 Dec Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0 - 0 Vissel Kobe


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 Hayato 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 Gamba Osaka 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 Robson Ponte 31 Urawa Reds
Rookie of the Year Takanori Sugeno 23 Yokohama FC
Golden Boot Juninho 30 Kawasaki Frontale
Coach of the Year Oswaldo Oliveira 56 Kashima Antlers

Best Eleven

GK Ryota Tsuzuki 29 Urawa Reds
DF Marcus Tulio Tanaka 26 Urawa Reds
Daiki Iwamasa 26 Kashima Antlers
Satoshi Yamaguchi 29 Gamba Osaka
MF Keita Suzuki 26 Urawa Reds
Yuki Abe 26 Urawa Reds
Yasuhito Endo 29 Gamba Osaka
Robson Ponte 31 Urawa Reds
Kengo Nakamura 26 Kawasaki Frontale
FW Juninho 30 Kawasaki Frontale
Bare 26 Gamba Osaka

The Antlers' late charge to the title, coupled with the fact that Then again, it wasnt simply Urawa's shortcomings that allowed Kashima to overtake them in the final weeks of the season. A stunning eight-week winning streak (thirteen consecutive victories if you include the the run to the Emperor's Cup title, in December) allowed the Antlers to snatch the league trophy on the final day of the season.

Following the events of 2007, top teams that qualify for the ACL have recognised the need to establish deeper rosters and to pace themselves, hoping to produce results in both competitions without exhausting their players. In any event, Urawa's ACL success in 2007 (particularly in financial terms) encouraged other J.League clubs to pursue titles in both Asia and the domestic league, rather than conserving their resources for the J.League campaign as they had done in the past. This can only be good for Asian football as a whole, while also raising Japan's profile in international football.


Voting on the J.League awards took place two weeks before the season ended, and the Antlers' late surge to the title led to a very bizarre and embarrassing spectacle on awards day. Only one member of the League Champions was included in the awards categories -- Daiki Iwamasa, who was included in the "best eleven". Instead, the awards were dominated by players from the Urawa Reds and Kawasaki Frontale, neither of which won ANY domestic titles in 2007. Not that this would have mattered, if the Reds and Frontale players really deserved the honour. But under the circumstances, this open snub of clearly more deserving players like Atsuto Uchida, Masashi Motoyama and Mitsuo Ogasawara merely made the people organizing the event look bad.


The League signaled their embarrassment by inviting the entire Antlers team to the ceremony to hold up their League Champions banner (in a typical year, just a few players from the team take part in this portion of the "show"). Hopefully this cautionary tale will convince the league to wait until the season is over, in future years, before deciding who deserves "player of the year" honours.


In the J.League's top division, a reasonably high level of parity persisted, but there were more signs that the teams at the lower end of the table might have difficulty keeping up. Yokohama FC set a record for clinching relegation faster than any team before them, and while Ventforet Kofu put up a valiant fight before succumbing to relegation, a comparison of their total team budget for the season with that of teams like Urawa raised concern that the J.League might be slipping in the direction that European Leagues have taken, where a few rich clubs dominate and the others are resigned to being "also rans" before the season even begins.


On the other hand, some positive signs emerged at the bottom end of the pyramid of professional football in Japan. Two separate teams -- Rosso Kumamoto and FC Gifu -- earned promotion to the J2 in 2008. This expanded the second division to 15 teams, raising hopes that the league would indeed reach its goal of establishing an 18-team J2 by 2010. Just as importantly, the recently added clubs have begun to acclimate to the professional ranks. Though Thespa Kusatsu, Ehime FC and Tokushima Vortis all finished at the lower end of the J2 table, the disparity in competitiveness was not nearly as great as it was last season.


Thespa, the "oldest" of these three clubs, moved towards a solid, mid-table position despite having a fairly limited economic and demographic base on which to build. Ehime and Tokushima continued to struggle, but a glance at the rosters and finances (not to mention attendance figures) suggest that these teams were retooling themselves from patchwork groups of aging J.Leaguers thrown together to achieve promotion, to more solidly-based teams drawing largely on youth and local talent.


Meanwhile, at the top of the J2, the promotion list included three teams that successfully rebuilt themselves after falling out of the J1 in disarray. Verdy continued to be a team with more money and "fame" than strategy or business sense. However, they did manage to regain a spot in the J1 for 2008, thanks to a more generous front office and a large number of J.League veterans.

Consadole, meanwhile, captured the J2 title on the back of a very lean and well organized squad that drew heavily on the contributions of local boys. Kyoto Sanga continued its yo-yo existence, bouncing back to the J1 after being relegated in 2006. However, a somewhat younger squad and more experience in the coaching ranks raised hopes that perhaps the team would be able to stay up this time around.