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Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off - Final Stage Fixtures
The fixture list for the Final Stage of the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off has already been announced, with favourites FC Gifu and V Varen Nagasaki scheduled to meet in the very last match of the tournament on Sunday afternoon. The team finishing top of the round robin group will be promoted from their Regional League to the JFL, while the runners-up will take on the JFL's bottom side - now almost certainly Honda Lock, from Miyazaki on Kyushu - in a further home-and-away play-off on 17 and 24 December.

Here's the full fixture list for next week's Final Stage matches:

Fri 01 Dec: Fagiano Okayama - V Varen Nagasaki
Fri 01 Dec: FC Gifu - TDK Akita
Sat 02 Dec: Fagiano Okayama - FC Gifu
Sat 02 Dec: V Varen Nagasaki - TDK Akita
Sun 03 Dec: Fagiano Okayama - TDK Akita
Sun 03 Dec: V Varen Nagasaki - FC Gifu
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Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Results
And to conclude the First Round of the Play-offs, the results from Sunday 26 November...

Group A

Fagiano Okayama 3-0 Norbritz Hokkaido

After their stunning win over group favourites Banditonce Kobe on Friday, Chugoku League champions Fagiano Okayama confirmed their place in the Final Stage with a 3-0 win over Norbritz Hokkaido in Nagasaki.

1. Fagiano Okayama 6 (+5)
2. Banditonce Kobe 3 (+1)
3. Norbritz Hokkaido 0 (-6)


Group B

Luminozo Sayama 0-4 V Varen Nagasaki

As expected, Kyushu's V Varen Nagasaki made no mistake and cruised to the top of Group B with an easy victory over a disappointingly poor Luminozo Sayama side.

1. V Varen Nagasaki 6 (+7)
2. Japan Soccer College 3 (+2)
3. Luminozo Sayama 0 (-9)


Group C

FC Gifu 7-0 FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu
Shizuoka FC 4-0 Kamatamare Sanuki

In the end, it was a walk in the park. FC Gifu threw down the gauntlet to any side hoping to stop them from achieving their goal of a JFL place next season with a crushing 7-0 defeat of an FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu side who had won both their previous matches. And with Gifu charging on to the Final Stage, Tokai League rivals Shizuoka FC could only muster a consolation win as they put four past whipping boys Kamatamare Sanuki from Shikoku.

1. FC Gifu 9 (+10)
2. FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu 6 (-)
3. Shizuoka FC 3 (+2)
4. Kamatamare Sanuki 0 (-12)

26 Nov 06 - FC Gifu fans and players celebrate their First Round group win

FC Gifu fans and players celebrate their First Round group win


Group D

TDK Akita 1-0 YSCC

TDK Akita might have lost their penalty shoot-out to Nippon Steel Oita on Friday, but that didn't mean they were out of things. A 1-0 win over YSCC sees the Tohoku League side squeeze through to the Final Stage.

1. TDK Akita 4 (+1)
2. YSCC 3 (+1)
3. Nippon Steel Oita 2 (-2)

26 Nov 06 - 26 Nov 06 - The masses ranks of TDK Akita’s away support

The massed ranks of TDK Akita’s away support
JFL - Round 33 (Sunday)
The JFL title for the 2006 season was finally confirmed as belonging to Honda FC on Sunday, after the long-time leaders notched up three second-half goals at JEF Club to render their lead unassailable. Fittingly, two of those goals were scored by top marksman Junya Nitta, whose partnership this year with Kodai Suzuki has played such a significant role in the championship returning to Hamamatsu.

In recent weeks, the main challengers to Honda's supremacy have been the goal-crazy Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, who during the latter half of the season have almost matched the title winners for consistency. Having put eight past Ryutsu Keizai University on their last away trip, the runners-up today crushed FC Ryukyu 6-0 thanks in part to a hat-trick from Kento Hori.

Rosso Kumamoto
concluded their programme of home fixtures with a 2-1 defeat of Alo's Hokuriku, which means that they still retain a very slim chance of a top-three finish when they travel next week to Sagawa Kyubin Osaka. The win for Rosso enabled them to leapfrog YKK AP, who could only draw at home to Tochigi SC.

Along with Alo's, the other team holding on to the coat-tails of the top teams are Yokogawa Musashino, who picked up a 1-0 victory at FC Kariya thanks to a goal from Takumi Otawa. But a glance at the rankings will reveal that the JFL is effectively split into at least two completely different sections, with a gap of fully nineteen points below the leading group of eight sides.

Sony Sendai are positioned just on the wrong side of that chasm, ostensibly a mid-table team but in fact their form has been in freefall for months. Today they suffered the lastest in a long line of poor results in a 4-2 loss at Mitsubishi Mizushima, which nevertheless enables the Okayama-based outfit to move out of the bottom two for the first time in months.

With SC Tottori beating Sagawa Printing 2-1 via a late Kohei Masumoto strike, right at the foot of the table Honda Lock were still clinging on to a slight chance that they might be able to avoid the single relegation play-off place. But that chance was more or less extinguished as a result of Mitsubishi's win, whilst they themselves could only draw at home to Arte Takasaki - meaning that Lock have to thrash Honda FC away next week in the final round to have any chance of avoiding the wooden spoon.

26 Nov 06 - Honda Lock prepare to finish bottom of the league, probably

Honda Lock prepare to finish bottom of the league, probably

Sun 26 Nov: YKK AP 1-1 Tochigi SC
Sun 26 Nov: SC Tottori 2-1 Sagawa Printing
Sun 26 Nov: FC Kariya 0-1 Yokogawa Musashino
Sun 26 Nov: Honda Lock 1-1 Arte Takasaki
Sun 26 Nov: Mitsubishi Mizushima 4-2 Sony Sendai
Sun 26 Nov: FC Ryukyu 0-6 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo
Sun 26 Nov: JEF Club 0-3 Honda FC
Sun 26 Nov: Rosso Kumamoto 2-1 Alo's Hokuriku

1 Honda FC 80 (+40)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 74 (+61)
3 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 69 (+38)
4 Rosso Kumamoto 66 (+26)
5 YKK AP 64 (+33)
6 Tochigi SC 57 (+14)
7 Yokogawa Musashino 57 (+18)
8 Alo's Hokuriku 56 (+23)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-15)
10 Arte Takasaki 36 (-26)
11 SC Tottori 35 (-1)
12 JEF Club 35 (-15)
13 FC Kariya 31 (-17)
14 Sagawa Printing 29 (-27)
15 FC Ryukyu 28 (-28)
16 Mitsubishi Mizushima 27 (-41)
17 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-37)
18 Honda Lock 22 (-46)

26 Nov 06 - Honda FC on their way to the JFL title

Honda FC on their way to the JFL title
JFL - Round 33 (Saturday)
Just one fixture on Saturday in the JFL after a full programme on holiday Thursday - but Sagawa Kyubin Osaka took full advantage to crush lowly Ryutsu Keizai University and move within a couple of points of second-placed rivals Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo. The result also guarantees that the Ibaraki-based students will finish in the league's bottom three.

Sat 25 Nov: Ryutsu Keizai University 2-5 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka

1 Honda FC 77 (+37)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 71 (+55)
3 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 69 (+38)
4 YKK AP 63 (+33)
5 Rosso Kumamoto 63 (+25)
6 Alo's Hokuriku 56 (+24)
7 Tochigi SC 56 (+14)
8 Yokogawa Musashino 54 (+17)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-13)
10 JEF Club 35 (-12)
11 Arte Takasaki 35 (-26)
12 SC Tottori 32 (-2)
13 FC Kariya 31 (-16)
14 Sagawa Printing 29 (-26)
15 FC Ryukyu 28 (-22)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-37)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-43)
18 Honda Lock 21 (-46)
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Results
Saturday's scores from the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-offs, as the First Round groups take shape...

Group A

Banditonce Kobe 3-0 Norbritz Hokkaido

Three second-half goals from the Kansai League champions Banditonce Kobe have given them a glimmer of a hope as far as qualification for the Final Stage is concerned. But for this to take place, today's opponents Norbritz Hokkaido must achieve exactly the right result in the last of the First Round games on Sunday against leaders Fagiano Okayama.

1. Fagiano Okayama 3 (+2)
2. Banditonce Kobe 3 (+1)
3. Norbritz Hokkaido 0 (-3)


25 Nov 06 - Shigeru Morioka, scorer of Banditonce Kobe’s opening goal

Shigeru Morioka, scorer of Banditonce Kobe’s opening goal


Group B

Japan Soccer College 1-4 V Varen Nagasaki

A comfortable win for favourites V Varen Nagasaki leaves them needing only a draw in tomorrow's match against Luminozo Sayama to make sure of their place in the Final Stage.

1. V Varen Nagasaki 3 (+3)
2. Japan Soccer College 3 (+2)
3. Luminozo Sayama 0 (-5)


Group C

Shizuoka FC 3-4 FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu
FC Gifu 2-0 Kamatamare Sanuki

Group C is proving the real nailbiter of this year's competition, as fancied side FC Gifu will have to go about it the hard way if they are to qualify for the Final Stage. Having beaten deadly rivals Shizuoka FC on Friday, a goal in each half took them past minnows Kamatamare Sanuki - only to discover that FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu had also battled past Shizuoka to stand atop the table on goal difference. Gifu must therefore beat FC Mi-o in tomorrow's showdown to maintain their challenge for a place in the JFL.

1. FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu 6 (+7)
2. FC Gifu 6 (+3)
3. Shizuoka FC 0 (-2)
4. Kamatamare Sanuki 0 (-8)


26 Nov 06 - Haruno Track & Field Park, Kochi - Group C venue

Haruno Track & Field Park, Kochi - Group C venue


Group D

Nippon Steel Oita 1-3 YSCC

1. YSCC 3 (+2)
2. Nippon Steel Oita 2 (-2)
3. TDK Akita 1 (-)

The most open First Round section is proving to be Group D, in which Nippon Steel Oita could have confirmed their qualification for the Final Stage by beating Kanto side YSCC. But a two-goal deficit at the interval was too much for Nippon Steel to pull back and so TDK Akita still remain in the hunt - indeed, they will win the group if they are able to beat YSCC on Sunday.


25 Nov 06 - Preparing for their match with YSCC, it’s mighty Nippon Steel Oita

Preparing for their match with YSCC, it’s mighty Nippon Steel Oita

26 Nov 06 - ... and here’s YSCC

... and here’s YSCC
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Results
The opening matches of the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-offs took place on Friday, results as follows:

Group A

Banditonce Kobe 3-5 Fagiano Okayama


Group B

Japan Soccer College 5-0 Luminozo Sayama


Group C

FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu 6-0 Kamatamare Sanuki
Shizuoka FC 2-3 FC Gifu


Group D

Nippon Steel Oita 1-1 TDK Akita (Nippon Steel Oita won 4-3 on pens)
JFL - Round 32
Honda FC made virtually sure of the 2006 JFL title on Thursday with a 5-1 thrashing of FC Ryukyu, placing them six points ahead of Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo with just two games remaining. Ryukyu in fact took a 20th-minute lead through a rare goal from defender Wataru Nakazato, but a hat-trick from star striker Junya Nitta saw Honda through to a comfortable victory. Sagawa Tokyo too strolled to three points against lowly opposition in the shape of Mitsubishi Mizushima, which included a 26th goal of the season for JFL top marksman Tetsuya Okubo.

Leading the fight for third place are Sagawa Kyubin Osaka, 3-1 winners over SC Tottori, while Rosso Kumamoto got their first victory in three games at Sagawa Printing despite conceding twice in injury time. In fact, the only losers out of the top five teams were YKK AP in the Toyama derby clash with Alo's Hokuriku, although YKK's Mitsuru Hasegawa was on target for the tenth time this year with his consolation effort in a 2-1 defeat.

Of the chasing teams, Tochigi SC needed a last-minute goal to defeat JEF Club 2-1 and Yokogawa Musashino picked up a first win in four against Ryutsu Keizai University. With Mitsubishi, Ryukyu and RKU all losing, at the foot of the table Honda Lock gave themselves a chance of avoiding a relegation play-off place as they won 3-2 at a Sony Sendai side who now have just one win in twelve games, Shoma Mizunaga grabbing two crucial goals for Lock. In the other match, Arte Takasaki squeezed past FC Kariya with the only goal of the game.

Thu 23 Nov: Alo's Hokuriku 2-1 YKK AP
Thu 23 Nov: Arte Takasaki 1-0 FC Kariya
Thu 23 Nov: FC Ryukyu 1-5 Honda FC
Thu 23 Nov: Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 3-1 SC Tottori
Thu 23 Nov: Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 3-0 Mitsubishi Mizushima
Thu 23 Nov: Sagawa Printing 2-4 Rosso Kumamoto
Thu 23 Nov: Sony Sendai 2-3 Honda Lock
Thu 23 Nov: Tochigi SC 2-1 JEF Club
Thu 23 Nov: Yokogawa Musashino 3-1 Ryutsu Keizai University

1 Honda FC 77 (+37)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 71 (+55)
3 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 66 (+35)
4 YKK AP 63 (+33)
5 Rosso Kumamoto 63 (+25)
6 Alo's Hokuriku 56 (+24)
7 Tochigi SC 56 (+14)
8 Yokogawa Musashino 54 (+17)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-13)
10 JEF Club 35 (-12)
11 Arte Takasaki 35 (-26)
12 SC Tottori 32 (-2)
13 FC Kariya 31 (-16)
14 Sagawa Printing 29 (-26)
15 FC Ryukyu 28 (-22)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-34)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-43)
18 Honda Lock 21 (-46)
Kanto Prefectural Leagues Promotion Play-offs 2006
第40回関東社会人サッカー大会

Participants:

Chiba: Kashiwa FC 柏FC
Gunma: Gunma Teachers 群馬教員SC and Tonan SC Gunma 図南SC群馬
Ibaraki: Club Dragons クラブドラゴンズ
Kanagawa: Mutsuura FC 六浦FC and Sagami Osawa FC さがみ大沢FC
Saitama: Urawa Reds Amateur 浦和レッズアマチュア and Yonoshu-kai 与野蹴魂会 and Buna Club 武南クラブ and FC Seibudai FC西武台
Tochigi: JBUS Utsunomiya SC JBUS宇都宮SC and Utsunomiya FC 宇都宮FC
Tokyo: Hitachi Buil System Care 日立ビルシステムケア, FC Korea FCコリア and FC Shinjuku FC新宿
Yamanashi: Koyu Club 工友クラブ

First Round

Sat 18 Nov: Gunma Teachers 1-3 FC Korea
Sat 18 Nov: Urawa Reds Amateur 0-2 Mutsuura FC
Sat 18 Nov: Hitachi Buil System Care 1-2 Yonoshu-kai
Sat 18 Nov: Buna Club 1-4 Kashiwa FC
Sat 18 Nov: Sagami Osawa FC 0-3 FC Shinjuku
Sat 18 Nov: Koyu Club 0-3 FC Seibudai
Sat 18 Nov: Club Dragons 1-0 JBUS Utsunomiya SC
Sat 18 Nov: Utsunomiya FC 1-8 Tonan SC Gunma

Second Round

Sun 19 Nov: FC Korea 1-2 Mutsuura FC
Sun 19 Nov: Yonoshu-kai 1-1 Kashiwa FC (PK 6-5)
Sun 19 Nov: FC Shinjuku 2-1 FC Seibudai
Sun 19 Nov: Club Dragons 3-2 Tonan SC Gunma

Semi-Finals

Mon 20 Nov: Mutsuura FC 1-5 Yonoshu-kai
Mon 20 Nov: FC Shinjuku 0-2 Club Dragons

Final

Tue 21 Nov: Club Dragons 6-0 Yonoshu-kai

Club Dragons - a subsidiary team of JFL side Ryutsu Keizai University - and Yonoshu-kai therefore qualify for the Kanto League Division 2 in 2007.
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Previews
Today JNFN concludes its series of previews of the four First Round groups in the Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off tournament. Group D, which is to be staged in Saitama prefecture, consists of experienced Tohoku League champions TDK Akita, YSCC from Kanto and Kyushu League runners-up Nippon Steel Oita.

Going into the competition, on paper the narrow favourites for this group will probably be TDK Akita. In their own regional league, the home taper's favourites have overcome the challenge to their supremacy from Grulla Morioka and now stand head and shoulders above all the other teams in Tohoku, An 8-1 away win at Grulla’s neighbours Morioka Zebra was just one stop along the way to winning all fourteen league matches this season, as TDK claimed their fifth title in a row and their eleventh overall.

For this is a very well-established club, having been set up in 1965 and first making a splash outside Akita prefecture in the early 80s. Three consecutive Tohoku crowns earned TDK a place in Division 2 of the national Japan Soccer League, although they were quickly relegated back again and have since that time remained what amounts to a big fish in a small pond.

20 Nov 06 - TDK Akita prepare to give Nippon Steel Kamaishi a sound beating

TDK Akita prepare to give Nippon Steel Kamaishi a sound beating

The squad these days consists mainly of former university team players from the north of Honshu, bolstered by a small number of ex-professionals such as defender Hirotoshi Yokoyama, formerly at Ventforet Kofu. New Wave Kitakyushu's experienced former Albirex Niigata and Ventforet midfielder Jun Mizukoshi has also joined on loan until the end of the year.

Appearances in the Play-offs over the past few seasons have indicated that TDK occupy a role as the nearly-men of Regional league football, having on a consistent basis narrowly failed to qualify for the Final Stage. Last year, for example, they lost out on goal difference to JEF United Amateur, but although Group D in 2006 is one of the most difficult to predict, the club seem geared up to make the breakthrough and become more competitive on the national stage.

Down at the southern end of Japan, however, in the last couple of years all the talk in the Kyushu League has been about the new breed of clubs who have broken out of the traditional mould of the company side to forge an identity as representatives of their own city or prefecture. Rosso Kumamoto are the most obvious example, having re-configured and re-launched to within an ace of the J-League itself; but FC Ryukyu will be aiming to become better-established at JFL level in 2007, while V Varen Nagasaki and New Wave Kitakyushu seemed to have bustled their way to the front of the queue to replace them as big guns at Regional level.

20 Nov 06 - Nippon Steel Oita. There are only three of them in the whole team

Nippon Steel Oita. There are only three of them in the whole team

V Varen duly took the Kyushu League title and are aiming to follow in Rosso's footsteps, but anyone who thought that the days of the company side as a force within the Japanese non-league game hasn't been paying attention to Nippon Steel Oita. Having joined the league as long ago as 1978, in recent years Nippon Steel have been tough opponents without ever challenging the top sides. But in 2005 they pulled off a stunning joint win of the All-Japan Shakaijin tournament and in spite of the ambitions of V Varen , New Wave and Volca Kagoshima, the club came into the 2006 season full of confidence that they could cause an upset.

And so it has proved, with Kitakyushu in particular being shrugged aside in the scrap for second place and Nippon Steel ultimately ending up as the only team all season to beat V Varen. While strong performances in one of the toughest of the regional leagues would normally suggest that they are in with a good chance of making progress in the Play-offs, they were nevertheless crushed 6-2 by FC Gifu in the First Round of this year's Shakaijin in the middle of October. But TDK Akita and YSCC are not of the same calibre as Gifu, and Nippon Steel will go into the competition thinking that they have a decent enough chance of making progress.

20 Nov 06 - The happy-go-lucky fellows of YSCC

The happy-go-lucky fellows of YSCC

The real surprise package in Group D, however, are shock Kanto League champions YSCC - or Yokohama Sports and Culture Club, to give them their full title. Formed in 1986 and with a membership in the region of 600, YSCC are an NPO (non-profit organisation) that offers a number of different sporting activities to all age ranges. The Kanto League was expanded to two divisions in 2003, with YSCC's football team one of those who took a place in the new second tier.

A year later they gained promotion alongside JEF Amateur and 2005 saw them struggle to come to terms with the standard in Division 1 - but they avoided relegation and throughout this season remained in touch with the leading pair of Yaita SC and Luminozo Sayama. Come the final match of the campaign, however, and YSCC were visiting a Yaita side who were just holding on to the lead but whose form had gone into a tailspin. To the astonishment of all, Yokohama handed out a 4-1 drubbing that gave themselves the championship and at the same time pushed Yaita back down to third behind Luminozo.

The nearest the club come to star quality is in the shape of the former Ventforet Kofu duo of defensive midfielder Yohei Suzuki - who actually began his career at YSCC, before going on to have a spell in Holland at GVVV Veenendaal - and striker Daichi Fukushima, joint top scorer this year with six. While the organisation generally is not what one would describe as awash with money, YSCC should not immediately be dismissed as also-rans, for just twelve months ago the aforementioned JEF team came from second in the Kanto League to win promotion to the JFL at the first attempt.
Kansai League Promotional Play-offs
Details have been announced of the Prefectural Play-offs to gain entrance into the Kansai League for 2007. Two teams from each of the six prefectures in the region will participate in a First Round round-robin tournament, with the winners of each going into a knock-out Semi-Final. The eventual winners of the competition will be promoted as automatic replacements for Kansai League Division 2 bottom place side Kobe FC Senior C, while the runners-up will have an additional chance to go up in the New Year when they take on Kohga School, who finished one above Kobe FC.

Participants:

Hyogo: Estrela Tsuda エストレラ津田 and FC Nishiomiya A FC西宮A

Kyoto: Kyoto Fushimi Shuyu-kai 京都伏見蹴友会 and Kumiyama FC 久御山FC

Nara: Porvenir Kashihara ポルベニルカシハラ and Tonan Club 都南クラブ

Osaka: Hannan University Club 阪南大クラブ and FC Kishiwada FC岸和田

Shiga: Shiga FC 滋賀FC and BSC ROSAGE BSC. ROSAGE

Wakayama: Kinki University Wakayama 近大和歌山 and Kainan FC 海南FC


A Block

Sun 03 Dec: FC Kishiwada - Estrela Tsuda
Sun 10 Dec: Estrela Tsuda - Kainan FC
Sat 16 Dec: FC Kishiwada - Kainan FC

B Block

Sun 03 Dec: Kyoto Fushimi Shuyu-kai - Kinki University Wakayama
Sun 10 Dec: Kinki University Wakayama - BSC ROSAGE
Sun 17 Dec: Kyoto Fushimi Shuyu-kai - BSC ROSAGE

C Block

Sun 03 Dec: Porvenir Kashihara - FC Nishiomiya A
Sun 10 Dec: FC Nishiomiya A - Kumiyama FC
Sat 16 Dec: Porvenir Kashihara - Kumiyama FC

D Block

Sun 03 Dec: Hannan University Club - Shiga FC
Sun 10 Dec: Hannan University Club - Tonan Club
Sun 17 Dec: Shiga FC - Tonan Club

Semi-Finals

Sat 23 Dec: Winner Group D - Winner Group A
Sat 23 Dec: Winner Group B - Winner Group C

Final

Sat 23 Dec:

Kansai League Division 2 Promotion / Relegation Play-off

Mon 22 Jan: Kohga School - ?
JFL - Round 31 (Sunday)
With three games left in this season's JFL fixture list, Rosso Kumamoto's dreams of finishing in the top two in the table - and so earning themselves a place in J2 for 2007 - look virtually dead and buried, after they fell to a 3-1 defeat at JEF Club on Sunday. This leaves the Kyushu side fully eight points behind the team currently in second, Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, with YKK AP and Sagawa Kyubin Osaka occupying the third and fourth places.

YKK were two up after only twenty minutes at FC Ryukyu but had to be content with a draw, as the struggling Okinawans fought back into the match and eventually equalised in the dying seconds through Hiroki Mihara. But things went better for Sagawa Osaka, two goals late in the first period proving enough to take them past Yokogawa Musashino. Six points off the pace at the bottom of the division are Honda Lock, who went down to a Kentaro Yoshida strike at home to Tochigi SC, while in the mid-table battle a late goal from Toshiya Hirata enabled SC Tottori to beat Sony Sendai 2-1.

19 Nov 06 - Honda Lock in red fight it out with Tochigi SC

Honda Lock in red fight it out with Tochigi SC

Sun 19 Nov: FC Ryukyu 2-2 YKK AP
Sun 19 Nov: Honda Lock 0-1 Tochigi SC
Sun 19 Nov: JEF Club 3-1 Rosso Kumamoto
Sun 19 Nov: Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 2-1 Yokogawa Musashino
Sun 19 Nov: SC Tottori 2-1 Sony Sendai

1 Honda FC 74 (+35)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 68 (+52)
3 YKK AP 63 (+34)
4 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 63 (+33)
5 Rosso Kumamoto 60 (+23)
6 Alo's Hokuriku 53 (+23)
7 Tochigi SC 53 (+13)
8 Yokogawa Musashino 51 (+15)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-12)
10 JEF Club 35 (-11)
11 Arte Takasaki 32 (-27)
12 SC Tottori 32 (-)
13 FC Kariya 31 (-15)
14 Sagawa Printing 29 (-24)
15 FC Ryukyu 28 (-18)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-32)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-40)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-47)

19 Nov 06 - FC Ryukyu’s ex-Consadole Sapporo player Hiroki Mihara

FC Ryukyu’s ex-Consadole Sapporo player Hiroki Mihara
JFL - Round 31 (Saturday)
Honda FC moved ever closer to confirming the JFL title for this season on Saturday with a 2-1 at FC Kariya. All the goals cam in the first half, Kazuhiro Yoshimura's 36th-minute winner meaning that Honda are six points ahead of their nearest challengers with just three more games remaining. And there can be no doubt that those nearest challengers are Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, for whom star striker Tetsuya Okubo was on target four times as his side crushed Ryutsu Keizai University 8-0 away from home - a result that makes even more difficult Rosso Kumamoto's aim of a top-two finish and a J-League place.

The other two fixtures on Saturday were played out further down the rankings, although Alo's Hokuriku moved up one place to sixth as they beat Mitsubishi Mizushima 1-0 with a goal from Kazuma Matsushita. Two second half strikes meanwhile gave Arte Takasaki a good 2-0 victory at Sagawa Printing, enabling the Gunma side to leapfrog Printing, Kariya and also SC Tottori as they push for a mid-table finish.

18 Nov 06 - Ooooh, very smart - FC Kariya before their match with Honda FC

Ooooh, very smart - FC Kariya before their match with Honda FC

Sat 18 Nov: FC Kariya 1-2 Honda FC
Sat 18 Nov: Mitsubishi Mizushima 0-1 Alo's Hokuriku
Sat 18 Nov: Ryutsu Keizai University 0-8 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo
Sat 18 Nov: Sagawa Printing 0-2 Arte Takasaki

1 Honda FC 74 (+35)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 68 (+52)
3 YKK AP 62 (+34)
4 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 60 (+32)
5 Rosso Kumamoto 60 (+25)
6 Alo's Hokuriku 53 (+23)
7 Yokogawa Musashino 51 (+16)
8 Tochigi SC 50 (+12)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-11)
10 JEF Club 32 (-13)
11 Arte Takasaki 32 (-27)
12 FC Kariya 31 (-15)
13 SC Tottori 29 (-1)
14 Sagawa Printing 29 (-24)
15 FC Ryukyu 27 (-18)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-32)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-40)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-46)

18 Nov 06 - Kazuma Matsushita, match-winner for Alo’s Hokuriku

Kazuma Matsushita, match-winner for Alo’s Hokuriku
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Previews
JNFN today continues its previews of the forthcoming Regional League Championship Winners' Play-offs with a look at Group C. This is to be staged in Kochi on the island of Shikoku and includes locals Kamatamare Sanuki, FC Mio-Biwako Kusatsu from Kansai and the Tokai league duo of Shizuoka FC and FC Gifu.

Formed in 2001, FC Gifu have incorporated within their structure teams from a range of educational institutions within their home prefecture, including the Gifu Teachers team that had previously participated at Regional level. 2004 saw the new club in Division 2 of the Tokai League and they were immediately competitive, missing out on promotion at the first attempt only on goal difference. Twelve months later and Gifu were again in a similar situation – but achieved a contrasting result, as a 7-0 win on the final day of the season enabled them to overtake Fuyo Club on goal difference and seal another promotion.

With financial backing, good organisation and a healthy local fanbase, this season the Greens were always likely to provide a stiff challenge to champions Shizuoka FC in Division 1 – and so it proved, as a squad stuffed with experienced ex-J-Leaguers claimed a draw in the pouring rain at Shizuoka on the opening day. Midway through the year, goals from Hiromi Kojima and former Oita Trinita defender Tetsuya Ito gave Gifu a 2-0 win over their deadly rivals to move them three points clear at the top of the table.

10 Nov 06 - FC Gifu’s ex-Nagoya Grampus 8 hero, Yasuyuki Moriyama

FC Gifu’s ex-Nagoya Grampus 8 hero, Yasuyuki Moriyama

This was a lead they never relinquished for the rest of a remarkable campaign and after having confirmed their title win at the start of October, coach Tetsuya Totsuka has snapped up a number of additional players on loan, including Gamba Osaka keeper Suguru Hino and Yu Hasegawa, a teenage striker from Kashiwa Reysol. They will undoubtedly go into the First Round of the play-offs having to cope with the pressure of being favourites, at the same time knowing that the previously dead and buried Shizuoka have wild-card entry.

For it was none other than Gifu’s fellow Tokai Leaguers who obtained a massive confidence boost from a run to the last two of the October Shakaijin tournament, during which they beat a pair of other sides who line up now in the Play-offs – including Group C rivals Kamatamare. Once in the final, Shizuoka had by far the better of the play against V Varen Nagasaki, only to be squeezed out 1-0. But the JFA’s decision to award an additional Play-off place to the Shakaijin runners-up has brought the possibility of salvation at the end of a terrible year for the club coached by Yasutoshi Miura, brother of Japanese footballing legend Kazu.

Just a few weeks previously, though, finishing second in the Tokai League behind Gifu had seemed merely to underline the extent to which they were on a downward spiral. Having won the title in 2002 and 2003, the ex-Yamakiya Club came desperately close to reaching the JFL, missing out in the Final Stage of the Play-offs by a matter of a few points on both occasions. But fans latterly were concerned that their club was becoming less competitive in the face of more progressive Regional League outfits elsewhere in the country, while they were stuck in the shadow of neighbours Jubilo Iwata, Shimizu S-Pulse and even Honda FC.

10 Nov 06 - Granted a reprieve by the JFA, Shizuoka FC

Granted a reprieve by the JFA, Shizuoka FC

Elimination from the Play-offs of 2005 by Banditonce Kobe was another huge disappointment for many supporters and led ultimately to the appointment of Miura, as Shizuoka sought to turn over a new leaf. Subsequent failure to beat Gifu in either of their league matches seemed to have cost them dear, until the JFA’s unexpected (although not entirely without precedent) change of policy handed them a lifeline.

The one addition to the Whites’ squad comes in the form of Consadole Sapporo 25-year-old striker Tomoaki Seino, something of a surprise in that Shizuoka were easily the highest-scoring side in Tokai during the league season. It is inevitably difficult to detect exactly how a side in their position will approach the Play-offs, but the fact that Gifu have failed to shake them off will surely offer Shizuoka a reason for some sort of optimism.

While the Tokai battle undoubtedly provides the focus of Group C – even of the whole of the First Round of the competition – exotically-named Kansai League runners-up FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu have been quietly preparing for their big opportunity to make the step up to the JFL: for potentially, they have one chance to achieve their ambition of bringing J-League football to their home prefecture of Shiga, near Kyoto.

Originally formed as a kids’ / youth team with the even more spectacular moniker of FC Mi-o Catfish Kusatsu, early in 2006 they bolted on a senior side by persuading the Sagawa Kyubin Kyoto company team to re-locate and be incorporated into their club structure. Sagawa Kyoto had first appeared in the Kansai League Division 2 in 2005, but immediately won promotion to the top tier before making their arrangement to hop into bed with FC Mi-o as a short-cut to the latter’s plans for future development.

10 Nov 06 - That can only be FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu

That can only be FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu

The bigger problem is that by the time next season begins, JFL powerhouses Sagawa Kyubin Osaka and Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo will have merged and themselves moved to Shiga, where the parent company’s main stadium is located. There is no suggestion yet that Sagawa United intend to aim for the J-League, although it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if such a change of policy were to occur; but whatever the truth, such a well-equipped incomer to the neighbourhood scarcely makes any easier FC Mi-o’s hopes of achieving a J2 place.

Given the possible narrowness of their window of opportunity, coach Kotaro Nakao has responded to the challenge of the Play-offs with preparations of remarkable thoroughness. His team has been constantly involved in a whole series of tough friendlies, boosted by the addition of four useful-looking players, including 21-year-old defender Noriaki Ishizawa from Nakao’s old club Vissel Kobe. They will begin the competition as outsiders, but should not be dismissed as incapable of an upset when up against ostensibly better-equipped teams.

The fourth team in Group C are Shikoku League champions Kamatamare Sanuki, winners of a hugely dramatic title race against reigning champions Nangoku Kochi thanks to a 3-3 draw on the final day of the season, when having lost would have conceded the first place which Kamatamare had held all year. Keen to follow near neighbours Ehime FC and Tokushima Vortis into the J-League, the club’s current name – which includes references to their home prefecture’s beautiful coastline and the culinary speciality of the area, a type of udon noodle – is actually their sixth.

Originally a high school Old Boys’ team based in Takamatsu, their most successful period in a reasonably extensive history was the 90s, when as Kagawa Shiun FC they won the Shikoku league twice and never finished out of the top three. But they never got passed the First Round of the Play-offs and a subsequent decline under the sponsorship of the Sunlife Corporation eventually brought about a re-invigoration of the club’s ambitions via the stewardship of local man Mikio Doi.

17 Nov 06 - Kamatamare Sanuki coach Mikio Doi leads the parade

Kamatamare Sanuki coach Mikio Doi leads the parade

Teams in this remote corner of the country nevertheless tend to find it difficult to attract talented players and Doi goes into the Play-offs knowing that, along with Norbritz Hokkaido, his charges are about the most likely to be heading for an early exit. Their stars are former university students such as strikers Hiroshi Kato and Eiji Morita, although also in the squad is the unlikely figure of Chinese midfielder Xu Xiao Fei, who moved to Shikoku from Consadole Sapporo. Up against teams such as Gifu, though, it is hard to envisage that they will do anything other than struggle.
JFL - Games-in-hand
Postponed from ten days ago as a result of their participation in the Emperor's Cup, YKK AP and Tochigi SC both won their midweek games in hand against struggling opposition in the JFL on Wednesday. Tatsuki Kishita gave Honda Lock a fifth-minute lead against YKK, but a brace from top scorer Hiroki Kishida swept aside the division's bottom place team and enabled YKK to move up to third above Sagawa Kyubin Osaka and the increasingly forlorn-looking Rosso Kumamoto. A late Kenta Nagai goal meanwhile gave Tochigi all three points at Ryutsu Keizai University, who remain only just outside the bottom two.

17 Nov 06 - Tochigi SC goalscorer Kenta Nagai

Tochigi SC goalscorer Kenta Nagai

Wed 15 Nov: Honda Lock 1-2 YKK AP
Wed 15 Nov: Ryutsu Keizai University 0-1 Tochigi SC

1 Honda FC 71 (+34)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 65 (+44)
3 YKK AP 62 (+34)
4 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 60 (+32)
5 Rosso Kumamoto 60 (+25)
6 Yokogawa Musashino 51 (+16)
7 Alo's Hokuriku 50 (+22)
8 Tochigi SC 50 (+12)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-11)
10 JEF Club 32 (-13)
11 FC Kariya 31 (-14)
12 SC Tottori 29 (-1)
13 Sagawa Printing 29 (-22)
14 Arte Takasaki 29 (-29)
15 FC Ryukyu 27 (-18)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-24)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-39)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-46)
New Nagano Name
Hokushinetsu League Division 1 title runners-up Nagano Elsa have announced a change of name for 2007, when they will be known as AC Nagano Parceiro.

16 Nov 06 - Smart new name, smart new badge

Smart new name, smart new badge
Chugoku Prefectural Promotional Play-offs
第30回中国地域県サッカーリーグ決勝大会

Over the weekend the play-offs took place to decide which teams from the Prefectural leagues in Chugoku will go forward to take on Iwami SC and Hitachi Manufacturing Kasado for places in the Chugoku League 2007.

The participants were as follows:

Hiroshima: Mazda SC マツダサッカークラブ and Fuji Xerox Hiroshima SC 富士ゼロックス広島SC

Okayama: Nippon Oil Mizushima 新日本石油精製水島 and NTN Okayama NTN岡山

Shimane: SC Matsue SC松江 and Matsue RM Yunokai 松江RM友の会

Tottori: Genki SC 元気SC and Tottori Teachers 鳥取KFC

Yamaguchi: Yamaguchi Combined Gas 山口合同ガス and Yahhh-man SC Ube ヤーマンSC宇部

Preliminary Round

Sat 11 Nov: Genki SC 6-1 Yamaguchi Combined Gas
Sat 11 Nov: Fuji Xerox Hiroshima SC 0-1 Tottori Teachers


First Round

Sun 12 Nov: Genki SC 0-0 Mazda SC (PK 3-4)
Sun 12 Nov: SC Matsue 3-2 Nippon Oil Mizushima
Sun 12 Nov: Yahhh-man SC Ube 3-1 Matsue RM Yunokai
Sun 12 Nov: NTN Okayama 1-0 Tottori Teachers


Semi-Finals

Mon 13 Nov: Mazda SC 1-0 SC Matsue
Mon 13 Nov: Yahhh-man SC Ube 0-2 NTN Okayama


Final

Mon 13 Nov: Mazda SC 1-0 NTN Okayama

All of which means that Mazda SC take on the bottom team in the Chugoku League - Iwami SC - and NTN Okayama will be matched up with Hitachi Kasado in the two-legged Promotion / Relegation Play-offs, on 10 and 17 December.
All Change In Tohoku
Supporters of Tohoku League Division 2 (North) side Aster Aomori are calling upon the club effectively to start again at prefectural level next season under the name FC Aomori Astrale, following a disastrous campaign that has seen the team leak players due to financial problems - with the unsurprising result that Aster have slumped towards the bottom of the division. Indeed, the last six games saw them concede no fewer than 42 goals and they rounded off the year with a 9-0 thrashing at home by student outfit Fuji Club 2003.

All this talk of re-grouping is a far cry from 1997, when Aster were the first ever champions of the newly-introduced Division 2 (North). Previously, they had been known as Gonohe Town Hall and had competed in both the All-Japan Shakaijin and the Emperor's Cup as far back as the mid-70s, making them one of the most historically-significant clubs in the far north of Honshu. Following their 1997 title win and promotion, the team were competitive in Division 1 but never quite had enough to make the step up to the level of the Regional League's top sides, in particular TDK Akita. After four years of finishing in third position, in 2004 they ended up last and relegated back to the regionalised second tier.

13 Nov 06 - A potential collectors’ item, in the shape of a lovely FC Aomori Astrale shirt

A potential collectors’ item, in the shape of a lovely FC Aomori Astrale shirt

Despite the best efforts of supporters' groups, it doesn't appear to have proved possible in the meantime for club management to get the organisational side of things back on to an even keel. It's to be hoped that 2006 proves to be a watershed and that changes can be made to enable an Aomori team - of whatever name - to move forward longer-term and thereby bring a higher level of football to their isolated part of the country.

Further south, Tohoku League Division 2 (South) side Northern Peaks Koriyama have announced the intention to change their name to Biancone Fukushima, as part of their attempts to work towards a J-League place.
Hokushinetsu League Division 2 Relegation / Promotion Play-off
After finishing runners-up to Japan Soccer College reserve side CUPS Niigata in the Hokushinetsu Challenge League to determine promotion from the prefectures to the Regional League, Ohara School JaSRA grasped with both hands their second and last chance to win promotion in the play-off against Division 2 strugglers LionPower Komatsu. With a 1-0 win from the first leg a week ago, things at the interval during today's second leg were tied 0-0 before JaSRA accelerated away with a remarkable four second half goals to claim a 5-0 aggregate win. While JaSRA therefore move up from the Nagano Prefectural League, LionPower fall back to the equivalent competition in Ishikawa.

12 Nov 06 - The unmistakeable sight of LionPower Komatsu getting done over

The unmistakeable sight of LionPower Komatsu getting done over

Sun 05 Nov: Ohara School JaSRA 1-0 LionPower Komatsu

Sun 12 Nov: LionPower Komatsu 0-4 Ohara School JaSRA
Hokushinetsu League Division 1 & 2 Promotion / Relegation Play-off
北信越リーグ 1部2部入替戦

Ueda Gentian retained their place in Division 1 of the Hokushinetsu League on Sunday in dramatic style. Trailing 2-0 from the first leg of their Play-off with FC Kanazu, Ueda tied things up on aggregate with a 2-0 win of their own before triumphing 6-5 in a penalty shoot-out.

Sun 12 Nov: Ueda Gentian 2-0 FC Kanazu (2-2 on aggregate, PK 6-5)
JFL - Round 30 (Sunday)
With four games remaining in the 2006 JFL season, Honda FC have one hand firmly on the championship crown. Their 4-1 win on Sunday over lowly Ryutsu Keizai University puts the Hamamatsu side six points ahead of Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo in second place - thanks in part to yet another goal from in-form striker Junya Nitta, his eighteenth of the year. There was disaster, though, for Rosso Kumamoto, desperately needing a win over Yokogawa Musashino in order to haul themselves back into contention, but instead they needed a late Yasuhiro Kamata goal to give them even a point in a 2-2 draw.

And so Rosso are now trailing Sagawa Tokyo by five points, although potentially they may be yet more aware of the dangers lurking just a single point behind them. For YKK AP breezed to a 3-0 win over Mitsubishi Mizushima and seem determined the finish the campaign on as strong a note as possible, having been the frontrunners earlier in the year but let things slip over the summer. Tochigi SC's 2006, on the other hand, is in danger of petering out to a distinctly drab conclusion, as exemplified by their goalless draw at home to FC Kariya. Given that the club are aiming for the J-League in 2008, to finish in their current poisition of eighth will scarcely be considered satisfactory.

Things also finished honours even between Sony Sendai and Sagawa Printing , but the other fixture of the day saw struggling FC Ryukyu pick up a vital win at JEF Club. This enabled Okinawa's finest to overtake RKU and so move away from the possibility of a relegation play-off that faces the sides finishing in the bottom two.

12 Nov 06 - The ballet of the beautiful game. Tochigi against FC Kariya

The ballet of the beautiful game. Tochigi against FC Kariya

Sun 12 Nov: Honda FC 4-1 Ryutsu Keizai University
Sun 12 Nov: JEF Club 0-1 FC Ryukyu
Sun 12 Nov: Rosso Kumamoto 2-2 Yokogawa Musashino
Sun 12 Nov: Sony Sendai 1-1 Sagawa Printing
Sun 12 Nov: Tochigi SC 0-0 FC Kariya
Sun 12 Nov: YKK AP 3-0 Mitsubishi Mizushima

1 Honda FC 71 (+34)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 65 (+44)
3 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 60 (+32)
4 Rosso Kumamoto 60 (+25)
5 YKK AP 59 (+33)
6 Yokogawa Musashino 51 (+16)
7 Alo's Hokuriku 50 (+22)
8 Tochigi SC 47 (+11)
9 Sony Sendai 37 (-11)
10 JEF Club 32 (-13)
11 FC Kariya 31 (-14)
12 SC Tottori 29 (-1)
13 Sagawa Printing 29 (-22)
14 Arte Takasaki 29 (-29)
15 FC Ryukyu 27 (-18)
16 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-23)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-39)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-45)

12 Nov 06 - Hiroki Kishida, YKK star striker

Hiroki Kishida, YKK star striker
Hokkaido League Play-off Change!
Indications have emerged that the Hokkaido League have changed their policy as regards promotion and relegation to and from the local second tier. As JNFN reported at the time, in early October the winners of the four Block Leagues participated in a round robin to decide who would move up to the Hokkaido League itself - and the tournament was won by Hokushukai from the North, who duly replaced relegated ACSC Asahikawa.

Under normal circumstances, the second team in that competition - Sapporo Winds - would then have taken part in a further Play-off against Thank FC, who had finished next-to-bottom in the Hokkaido League itself. But on this occasion there has clearly been a change of heart, for Sapporo Winds have instead been promoted automatically, without the need to play against Thank - who are presumably relegated.
JFL - Round 30 (Saturday)
Rosso Kumamoto might not be playing their thirtieth fixture of the 2006 JFL season until Sunday, but Saturday was still a pretty terrible day for the ambitious Kyushu side, bearing in mind their dreams of achieving promotion to the J-League. Needing a top-two finish, they have been squeezed out to fourth following wins for both Sagawa Kyubin Osaka and Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, the former coming from behind to defeat Arte Takasaki with the winning goal coming early in the second half from star striker Sho Gokyu.

Sagawa Tokyo's main forward and the JFL's number one marksman Tetsuya Okubo was also on target as his team eased to a 2-0 victory over SC Tottori. The individual performance of the day, though, came from neither Okubo nor Gokyu, but from Alo's Hokuriku's Yoshio Kitagawa. He managed a sensational hat-trick in only five minutes just prior to half-time during a 4-1 win over Honda Lock, to move joint top alongside the Sagawa Tokyo man at the top of the goalscorers' ranking with 21 for the season.

10 Nov 06 - Arte Takasaki goalscorer Toshihisa Ono. Rabbits and headlights, anyone?

Arte Takasaki goalscorer Toshihisa Ono. Rabbits and headlights, anyone?

Sat 11 Nov: Alo's Hokuriku 4-1 Honda Lock
Sat 11 Nov: Arte Takasaki 1-2 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka
Sat 11 Nov: Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 2-0 SC Tottori

1 Honda FC 68 (+31)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 65 (+44)
3 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 60 (+32)
4 Rosso Kumamoto 59 (+25)
5 YKK AP 56 (+30)
6 Alo's Hokuriku 50 (+22)
7 Yokogawa Musashino 50 (+16)
8 Tochigi SC 46 (+11)
9 Sony Sendai 36 (-11)
10 JEF Club 32 (-12)
11 FC Kariya 30 (-14)
12 SC Tottori 29 (-1)
13 Arte Takasaki 29 (-29)
14 Sagawa Printing 28 (-22)
15 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-20)
16 FC Ryukyu 24 (-19)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-36)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-45)

11 Nov 06 - Alo’s Hokuriku in blue take on Honda Lock

Alo’s Hokuriku in blue take on Honda Lock
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Previews
JNFN today continues its previews of the forthcoming Regional League Championship Winners' Play-offs with a look at Group B. This is to be staged alongside Group A in Nagasaki and includes effectively a host team in the form of Kyushu League champions V Varen Nagasaki, alongside Japan Soccer College from Hokushinetsu and runners-up in the Kanto League, old hands Luminozo Sayama.

V Varen this year dominated the ultra-competitive Kyushu League, losing in 90 minutes only once and that in the last match of the season against Nippon Steel Oita. Alongside FC Gifu from Tokai, they are arguably the club best-placed to make a successful transition from Regional League football to the JFL, with decent financial backing in place and a local fanbase eager to see their team progress and thereby be in a position to compete with their neighbours across Kyushu, such as Rosso Kumamoto and Honda Lock in the JFL - not to mention the trio of J-League teams based on the island, Oita Trinita, Avispa Fukuoka and Sagan Tosu.

Formed off the back of Nagasaki Prefectural League side SC Ariake in early 2005, the club finished third behind Rosso and Okinawans of FC Ryukyu in their first Kyushu League season, but learned from their mistakes and re-grouped for 2006 under coach Fumiaki Iwamoto. Impressively, their team is based around local players and University students - although reserve striker Hidetoshi Nakayama was previously on the books of rivals Japan Soccer College - and it was this same basic squad that in October narrowly beat Shizuoka FC to win the All-Japan Shakaijin competition.

10 Nov 06 - Kyushu League champions V Varen Nagasaki

Kyushu League champions V Varen Nagasaki

But since then, V Varen have left no-one in any doubt as to the extent of their ambition - and the depth of their pockets – by announcing no fewer than eight short-term loan signings from the J-League and from other top Regional League sides, whom they hope will be enough to take the team up into the JFL. Leaving aside the important issue of whether the incomers will be able to gel successfully with the players already in situ, such financial clout alone obviously puts V Varen in a very strong position - and a combination of this, home advantage and their track record so far in 2006 means that they must be considered hot favourites to make it through the First Round at the very least.

Luminozo Sayama, on the other hand, rather scraped into the Play-offs this year, by virtue not of points or goal difference, but of having scored more goals than third-placed Yaita SC, the season's surprise package. Given that the title race in Kanto went down to the wire, the Honda works team can consider themselves to be surely the only club ever to confirm their success with a last-match-of-the-season 6-1 defeat, dished out to them in this instance by mid-ranking Saitama SC. The start of the campaign had been almost equally as painful, in that four matches in they had just four points on the board - a major shock, considering that since reaching Regional level in 1991, Luminozo have been one of the most successful teams in the Kanto League.

Indeed, 2006 is the ninth time that the club have competed in the Play-offs. Last year saw them lose out to eventual winners FC Ryukyu in the First Round, although in 2004, they had made it through to the Final Stage only to finish bottom of the group, with Mitsubishi Motors Mizushima, Ryutsu Keizai University and Honda Lock promoted ahead of them. Their record in the All-Japan Shakaijin tournament is more impressive, since the mid-90s finishing runners-up twice, joint winners twice and winning the competition outright in 2003, when they beat Shizuoka FC 3-0 after coasting to the final.

10 Nov 06 - Luminozo Sayama await their fate

Luminozo Sayama await their fate

But the Shakaijin is a competition in which the Saitama-based outfit have not participated at all in the last couple of years and, despite their comparative success in the League, the feeling remains that Luminozo's days as a real power within their region may be behind them - or at least, that Naoto Abe as coach needs time to piece together a stronger squad to see the club through a natural period in decline.

One factor that may have some impact upon Abe's ability to achieve such a goal is the attitude of their parent company. Honda have long insisted that they will not fund a professional J-League team, however well Honda FC might perform in the JFL - and although Luminozo as a Regional League club are a step too low down the pyramid for this to be a truly significant issue, it is a corporate policy that nevertheless sets a tone. As such, while their competitors have spent varying sums to bring in news players specifically for the period of the Play-offs, Luminozo Sayama will in contrast be represented by the same squad of players that has seen them through this league season and it therefore seems doubtful that they will have the quality to challenge V Varen in particular.

To be fair, however, only two players have moved to Japan Soccer College since the end of the league season – Shinichi Shuto, a 23-year-old goalkeeper, together with 18-year-old striker Ryuta Sasaki, both from the outer edges of the first team squad at J1 giants Kashima Antlers. JSC are famously part of the Albirex Niigata youth set-up, but have a genuinely unique status as a type of educational foundation running a range of training courses, as well as fielding teams of their own (the reserve side, known as CUPS Niigata, has just won promotion from the Prefectural League to Division 2 of the Hokushinetsu League).

10 Oct 06 - Ryuta Sasaki, JSC’s loan signing from Kashima Antlers

Ryuta Sasaki, JSC’s loan signing from Kashima Antlers

The club first appeared on a national stage in 2002, when as a Prefectural League side themselves they reached the finals of the All-Japan Shakaijin and overcame Yaita SC and Volca Kagoshima from Kyushu on the way to a Quarter-Final place. The following season, in the Hokushinetsu League for the first time, they triumphed in a narrow title race with Nagano Elsa and Ueda Gentian, although their resulting debut in the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off ended in disappointment and a bottom place finish in their First Round group.

Having finished runners-up in the league in both 2004 and 2005, JSC were always going to be among the contenders in an increasingly competitive Hokushinetsu League this season, as Nagano Elsa, Matsumoto Yamaga Club and the newly-launched Zweigen Kanazawa all were staking a realistic claim for the title. But as in 2003, it was the students from Niigata who won what turned out to be a thrilling three-way fight for the title with Nagano and Matsumoto, a 1-0 final-day victory over Elsa confirming the championship by just a single point.

Nevertheless, the recent record in the Play-offs of teams representing the Hokushinetsu region is not especially impressive – YKK AP are the last club to win promotion, in 2000 – which suggests that whilst their own league might include a number of similarly-ranked teams, they all find it harder to compete when faced with opposition from elsewhere in the country. This being the case, it is hard to forecast JSC doing anything more than fighting with Luminozo for a runners-up spot behind V Varen in Group B this year.
Emperor's Cup Fourth Round
Ties played Wed 08 Nov.

Kashima Antlers 4-0 Honda FC
JEF United 0-1 Consadole Sapporo
Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Previews
JNFN here begins a series of articles that aim to provide a preview of the forthcoming Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off competition. The First Round groups will be playing their matches over the weekend of Saturday 25th November, with the winners of each going through to the Final Stage the following weekend. We begin as tradition dictates with Group A, staged in Nagasaki and made up of Banditonce Kobe, Norbritz Hokkaido and Fagiano Okayama…

Fans of Fagiano Okayama at the start of the season were nervous about prospects for the year ahead. They knew that their region would be allocated only one position in the Regional League Championship Winners’ Play-off, whilst at the same time 2005 champions Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku, FC Central Chugoku and Hiroshima Fujita SC all seemed likely to offer pretty stiff competition. Put another way: if the Pheasants wanted to stay in the running to achieve their ambition of a JFL place, they had to see off all-comers and win the Chugoku League.

And after round 2 at the beginning of May, this was looking an extremely unlikely outcome indeed. For although Fagiano had travelled to Hamada for the match with newly-promoted FC Central full of confidence - having the week previously beaten Renofa Yamaguchi 5-1 in front of more than 4000 local fans - they went on to suffer a 5-0 humiliation at the hands of the 2005 Shimane Prefectural League title winners.

08 Nov 06 - Fagiano Okayama striker Jefferson goes for goal

Fagiano Okayama striker Jefferson goes for goal

But the team bounced back, demonstrating remarkable resilience as they raced to the top of the league via a series of comfortable victories over the weaker teams, and then finally gaining revenge on FC Central with a 2-1 win in early July. By the time the signing was announced in early September of former Sagan Tosu and Yokohama FC striker Jefferson, there was a five-point gap between Fagiano and their nearest challengers. A 2-1 defeat to Fujita came as an unexpected late hiccup and the title was not finally confirmed until the last day of the regular season, but since then the club have retained the services of Jefferson and brought in former J-League defenders Yasuhiro Nemoto and Hiroyoshi Kuwabara from New Wave Kitakyushu, together with Tokyo Verdy 1969 squad men Takaki Shigemitsu and Koji Matsuura.

In the 2005 Play-off tournament, Fagiano were unlucky to find themselves drawn in the Group of Death, lined up against the cut-throat ambition of Rosso Kumamoto and Tohoku League side Grulla Morioka. Despite taking the lead in their two matches, they ended up on the losing side both times to be eliminated at the First Round stage. There’s no doubt that the 2006 season will have prepared them better for the fight that lies ahead, and that the muscular Brazilian Jefferson will prove a handful for any defence at this level, but the match with Banditonce Kobe seems likely to hold the key to Fagiano Okayama's hopes of making progress.

For Banditonce - a 2005 re-launch of the Central Kobe club, which itself had its roots in a Hyogo Teachers team that first competed in the Kansai League as far back as 1976 - shocked everyone with the rapidity of their development twelve months ago. 2-1 wins over Nangoku Kochi and group favourites Shizuoka FC saw the Kansai champions through the First Round and within touching distance of the JFL itself. With three teams going up from the Final Stage, Banditonce were nevertheless edged out into last place after defeats from Rosso and JEF United Amateurs, thus forcing them back to Regional League level for 2006.

08 Nov 06 - Banditonce Kobe’s Ryosuke Kanzaki

Banditonce Kobe’s Ryosuke Kanzaki

Coach Yuji Hashimoto may only be 36 but has good experience in charge of local JFL outfits Sagawa Kyubin Osaka and Sagawa Printing, with the added credibility of a pro career that included stints at Gamba Osaka and Sagan Tosu. He has pieced together a squad that breezed through the league season this year without breaking sweat and finished fully nine points in front of FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu, their copybook blotted only by a shock mid-season 1-0 defeat at struggling Kyoto Shiko Club.

With something of a focus on a strong back line, the key member of Hashimoto's side is big ex-Kawasaki Frontale defender and 2006 Kansai League MVP winner Ryosuke Kanzaki, although a weakness between the sticks has been addressed with the loan acquisition of Taiji Furuta, a 24-year-old-keeper with J-League experience from Tokushima Vortis. The one other player to have joined the club on loan for the Play-offs is Sagawa Kyubin Osaka defender Kim Myon Hi, but Banditonce Kobe are gutsy, physical and determined opposition, who look narrow favourites to take Group A and go on to the Final Stage.

Competing alongside Fagiano and Banditonce are Norbritz Hokkaido - title winners in their region four years running, but with a poor record when it comes to facing up to opposition from elsewhere in the country. In the 2005 Play-offs, the former Hokkaido Electric Power team were matched up with JEF Amateurs, TDK Akita and Nagano Elsa, but were only able to manage a draw against the latter as, like Fagiano, they fell at the first hurdle. In this season's All-Japan Shakaijin tournament, they qualified as normal but were knocked out in the First Round by mid-ranking Hokushinetsu League side Fervorosa, while Nippon Steel Oita accounted for them in the Emperor's Cup, again in the opening round.

08 Nov 06 - Norbritz Hokkaido celebrate winning a place in the Emperor’s Cup First Round proper

Norbritz Hokkaido celebrate winning a place in the Emperor’s Cup First Round proper

The problem faced by Norbritz Hokkaido is that their local competition is probably the weakest of all the nine Regional Leagues. Sides such as Tokachi Fairsky and Thank FC therefore offer them little in the way of way of credible opposition at home, but when it comes to taking on better organised, coached and financed teams from other parts of Japan, the Red Lightning are all too often found wanting - the step up is simply too far to make. This is not a new situation, but one that has continually dogged the development of football in Japan’s northernmost outpost, which has never without outside help produced a club of its own to compete on the national stage (current J2 side Consadole Sapporo are based on a Toshiba works team that moved from Kanto).

But for Norbritz, hope in the very short term rests on the shoulders of the team's star striker, 24-year-old ex-Sapporo University player Yusuke Okato, to get the goals and to provide some kind of threat to opposition defences. Given that there is likely to be no finance available to bring in any loan signings for the duration of the Play-off cometition, the club’s record unfortunately suggests that their chances of success in Nagasaki are slight indeed.
Hokushinetsu League Promotion & Relegation Play-off
Following on from the Hokushinetsu Challenge League, through which CUPS Niigata have gained promotion to the Hokushinetsu League Division 2 for 2007, it's been confirmed that Nagano prefecture's Ohara School JaSRA beat LionPower Komatsu 1-0 on Sunday in the first leg of their additional play-off. This may see JaSRA promoted and LionPower relegated after just a single season at Regional level. The second leg is this coming weekend.
Hokushinetsu League Division 1 & 2 Promotion / Relegation Play-off
北信越リーグ 1部2部入替戦

Hokushinetsu League Division 2 runners up FC Kanazu took a major step towards achieving promotion on Sunday when they overcame Ueda Gentian 2-0 in the first leg of their play-off to decide the final Division 1 place for 2007. The return leg at Matsumoto's Alwin Stadium takes place this coming weekend.

05 Nov 06 - FC Kanazu wrestle Ueda Gentian to the ground

FC Kanazu wrestle Ueda Gentian to the ground

Sun 05 Nov: FC Kanazu 2-0 Ueda Gentian
Hokushinetsu Challenge League 2006
北信越チャレンジリーグ’2006

Taking place over the last few weekends has been the six-way battle for promotion from the relevant prefectural leagues into Division 2 of the Hokushinetsu League for 2007. The participants - all the champions of their respective prefectures - play in a straightforward round robin group tournament, with the winners achieving direct promotion to replace relegated side Nissei Resin, while the runners-up have a further chance to secure advancement with an additional play-off against the 2006 seventh-place team, LionPower Komatsu.

05 Nov 06 - Something to do with CUPS Niigata, apparently

Something to do with CUPS Niigata, apparently

Participants:

Fukui: Panasonic Fukui (Japanese name - Panasonic福井)
Ishikawa: FC Ton (FC TON)
Nagano: Ohara School (JaSRA 大原学園JaSRA)
Niigata: CUPS Niigata (CUPS NIIGATA)
Toyama: Giocatore Takaoka (ジョカト-レ高岡)
Universities: Niigata University of Health & Welfare (新潟医療福祉大学)

Results & Ranking:

Niigata University of Health & Welfare 7-1 Panasonic Fukui
FC TON 0-2 Giocatore Takaoka
CUPS Niigata 3-2 Ohara School JaSRA

CUPS Niigata 5-0 Panasonic Fukui
Ohara School JaSRA 12-0 FC TON
Niigata University of Health & Welfare 5-0 Giocatore Takaoka

Panasonic Fukui 1-2 Ohara School JaSRA
FC TON 0-6 Niigata University of Health & Welfare
Giocatore Takaoka 0-3 CUPS Niigata

Panasonic Fukui 4-0 FC TON
Ohara School JaSRA 3-0 Giocatore Takaoka
CUPS Niigata 4-2 Niigata University of Health & Welfare

CUPS Niigata 4-0 FC TON
Ohara School JaSRA 2-1 Niigata University of Health & Welfare
Panasonic Fukui 2-1 Giocatore Takaoka

1 CUPS Niigata 15 (+15)
2 Ohara School JaSRA 12 (+16)
3 Niigata University of Health & Welfare 9 (+14)
4 Panasonic Fukui 6 (-7)
5 Giocatore Takaoka 3 (-10)
6 FC TON 0 (-28)

Promoted to the Hokushinetsu league Division 2 are therefore CUPS Niigata - otherwise known as the second team of Hokushinetsu League champions Japan Soccer College. Ohara School JaSRA will take on LionPower Komatsu in the further play-off.
Emperor's Cup Fourth Round
05 Nov 06 - YKK AP fans gather in Akita for their clash with Omiya Ardija

YKK AP fans gather in Akita for their clash with Omiya Ardija

Ties played Sun 05 Nov.

Omiya Ardija 2-1 YKK AP
Nagoya Grampus 8 1-0 Vegalta Sendai
Shimizu S-Pulse 6-4 Tochigi SC
FC Tokyo 7-0 Banditonce Kobe
Oita Trinita 4-1 Thespa Kusatsu
Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 Ehime FC (aet)
Ventforet Kofu 3-2 Montedio Yamagata

05 Nov 06 - Tochigi players and fans before the tie at Shimizu S-Pulse

Tochigi players and fans before the tie at Shimizu S-Pulse
JFL - Round 29
Due to the continued participation in the Emperor's Cup of YKK AP and Tochigi SC, there were a couple of postponements that prevented Sunday's list of JFL fixtures from being complete - but the action continued at both end of the league table. Frontrunners Honda FC surely have one hand on the title trophy now after securing three more points in a dramatic match at SC Tottori. Trailing 3-1 with only twelve minutes remaining, the home side must have thought they had done enough to secure a draw as goals from top scorer Hideki Uchiyama and Kohei Masumoto pulled them back on to level terms - but Daiju Kawashima popped up three minutes from time to seal a victory for the champions-elect. Hot on their heels, though, are still Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo, for whom Hideki Takeya scored a brace in a 3-1 win at Sagawa Printing.

Taking advantage of YKK's postponed game were Rosso Kumamoto and Sagawa Kyubin Osaka, who moved third and fourth respectively thanks to vital wins. Sagawa ran in all of their five goals against Sony Sendai in the final half-hour, while Daisuke Yano's 78th-minute strike proved to be the final score of the day as Rosso overcame neighbours and rivals FC Ryukyu 2-1. After their last two fixtures have yielded only a single point, it could be that this is a victory that gets Rosso's promotion push back on track, although they remain three points behind Sagawa Tokyo.

Conceding Yano's goal was nevertheless disastrous news for Ryukyu, who now find themselves out of the bottom two only on goal difference from Mitsubishi Mizushima, as the Okayama side notched a late Kentaro Takamatsu equaliser to grab a point at home to JEF Club. With Honda Lock and Ryutsu Keizai University's matches being called off, FC Kariya moved away from the foot of the division thanks to a 1-0 win over Alo's Hokuriku. But Arte Takasaki pulled off argubaly the result of the day, bouncing back from last week's humiliation at home to Mitsubishi as they travelled to Yokogawa Musashino and beat the Tokyo side 2-1, thereby recording their first victory since June.

05 Nov 06 - Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Rosso Kumamoto’s Daisuke Yano

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Rosso Kumamoto’s Daisuke Yano

Sun 05 Nov: FC Kariya 1-0 Alo's Hokuriku
Sun 05 Nov: FC Ryukyu 1-2 Rosso Kumamoto
Sun 05 Nov: Mitsubishi Mizushima 1-1 JEF Club
Sun 05 Nov: Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 5-0 Sony Sendai
Sun 05 Nov: Sagawa Printing 1-3 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo
Sun 05 Nov: SC Tottori 3-4 Honda FC
Sun 05 Nov: Yokogawa Musashino 1-2 Arte Takasaki

1 Honda FC 68 (+31)
2 Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo 62 (+42)
3 Rosso Kumamoto 59 (+25)
4 Sagawa Kyubin Osaka 57 (+31)
5 YKK AP 56 (+30)
6 Yokogawa Musashino 50 (+16)
7 Alo's Hokuriku 47 (+19)
8 Tochigi SC 46 (+11)
9 Sony Sendai 36 (-11)
10 JEF Club 32 (-12)
11 FC Kariya 30 (-14)
12 SC Tottori 29 (+1)
13 Arte Takasaki 29 (-28)
14 Sagawa Printing 28 (-22)
15 Ryutsu Keizai University 25 (-20)
16 FC Ryukyu 24 (-19)
17 Mitsubishi Mizushima 24 (-36)
18 Honda Lock 18 (-42)

05 Nov 06 - Mitsubishi Mizushima host JEF Club. Lovely and sunny there, isn’t it

Mitsubishi Mizushima host JEF Club. Lovely and sunny there, isn’t it
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