Japanese Non-league Football News

Play-offs - Final Stage Review

With two of the favourites and two dark horses having made it through from the Regional League Championship Winners Play-off First Round, the eyes of all fans of the non-league game in Japan have been on the Momotaro Stadium in Okayama over the weekend, to see Kyushu's FC Ryukyu and Rosso Kumamoto battle it out with JEF United Amateurs from Kanto and Kansai's Banditonce Kobe for the three available spots in the JFL for 2006.

Friday saw JEF United Amateurs take on and beat Banditonce, their former Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo forward Higuchi putting them ahead just before half time and Saito making it 2-0 with nine minutes to go. The second game on the same day, however, was the big match - the Kyushu derby game between Rosso and Ryukyu, with Ryukyu desperate to knock Rosso off from their position as top dogs in the Regional League. Fifteen minutes into the second half, however, Tomon Machida - formerly of FC Horikoshi - opened the scoring for Rosso, but a Ricardo Higa free kick in stoppage time tied things up and to the horror of the Kumamoto fans, Ryukyu went on to steal it 5-4 on the penalty shoot-out, winning two points to Rosso's one.

02 Dec 05 - Rosso Kumamoto fans prepare for the clash with FC Ryukyu

Rosso Kumamoto fans prepare for the clash with FC Ryukyu

The following day, Banditonce were as good as eliminated from the competition. They were comfortably beaten 3-0 by a resurgent Rosso, for whom another ex-Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo man, Masahiko Kumagai, got his name on the scoresheet as soon as the fifth minute. Takeshi Yamaguchi followed suite mid-way throught the second period and Machida grabbed his second goal in two games right at the end. But it was their Okinawa neighbours Ryukyu who booked a place in the JFL, a late own goal giving them a 1-0 win over JEF Amateurs.

06 Dec 05 - Ryukyu's Tomo Nitta takes on the JEF United Amateurs defence

Ryukyu's Tomo Nitta takes on the JEF United Amateurs defence

The competition finished in unexpected fashion on the Sunday, with Ryukyu again requiring penalties to squeeze past wooden-spooners Banditonce 6-5 after a 1-1 draw, in which Wilson Da Silva had put them ahead in 29th minute only for Hiroyuki Iwata to pull Banditonce level with sixteen minutes to go. Rosso, however, were left to scrape through into the JFL with a third place finish after they lost 2-1 to JEF Amateurs, Katsuhiro Suzuki notching a late consolation for the pre-tournament favourites after Danilo and Fujita had put JEF in control.

06 Dec 05 - FC Ryukyu celebrate their promotion to the JFL

FC Ryukyu celebrate their promotion to the JFL

And so FC Ryukyu's success brings a step closer the dream of a truly national J-League, with an Okinawan club established in the JFL for 2006. While Rosso disappointed with their patchy performances in the play-offs, it will nevertheless be fascinating to see how they and JEF United Amateurs - the first ever amateur outfit connected to a J-League club to reach such a high level in the Japanese pyramid system - cope with the higher level of football next season.

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