Japanese Non-league Football News

Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off Format Confirmed
The JFA have finalised the format for entry into this season's vital end-of-season Regional League Championship Winners's Play-off tournament, the mechanism by which teams achieve promotion from the nine Regional Leagues to the JFL in the Japanese non-league pyramid system. In 2005, Rosso Kumamoto and FC Ryukyu from the Kyushu League - together with JEF Club from Kanto - made the step up with what has so far proved to be varying levels of success, but the fact that those three sides took part in the final round of the play-off alongside Kansai's Banditonce Kobe impacts upon the format of this season's competition as well.

Essentially, the winners of each of the Regional Leagues take a place in the Play-off, but as a result of Rosso, Ryukyu, JEF and Banditonce's additional progress last year, Kyushu, Kanto and Kansai are allocated an extra spot apiece. Furthermore, the JFA has announced that as per 2005, there will be what amounts to one wildcard entry - which may come in the form of a university club nominated by the separate governing body of University football, from the winner of the October All-Japan Shakaijin, or from another yet-to-be identified source. Last time around, indeed, it was FC Ryukyu who fitted into the latter category as Kyushu late in the day were given an extra place in the tournament on account of the strength of the competition in their league in 2005.

11 Jul 06 - Kanto League hopefuls Luminozo Sayama

Kanto League hopefuls Luminozo Sayama

But to clarify, then; the number of teams from each Regional League will initially be as follows:

Chugoku 1
Hokkaido 1
Hokushinetsu 1
Kansai 2
Kanto 2
Kyushu 2
Shikoku 1
Tohoku 1
Tokai 1

+ 1 wildcard

All of which means that there will be thirteen teams divided into four groups for the First Round matches, which are being staged from 24 - 26 November as follows:

Group A

3 teams, to be played in Nagasaki

Group B

3 teams, to be played in Nagasaki

Group C

4 teams, to be played in Kochi

Group D

3 teams, to be played in Saitama

11 Jul 06 - No prizes for guessing that this is Kansai outfit FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu

No prizes for guessing that this is Kansai outfit FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu

The winner of each group will then proceed to the Final Round in Oita over the weekend of 01 - 03 December. It seems probable that there will then be some sort of further play-off involving the bottom two teams in the JFL to decide promotion and indeed relegation, but precisely how this works is likely to be dependent on whether any teams this year achieve promotion from the JFL into J2.

So how are things shaping up for the teams currently contesting the Regional Leagues? Who is heading for the Play-off in November and for a possible JFL place in 2007? Regular readers will be familiar with the league competitions which are in progress at the moment, but a quick overview is in order now that the way ahead has been made clear for those sides eager to gain promotion to the national stage...

The season in Chugoku is now just into the second half and it looks as if last year's runners up Fagiano Okayama have done enough to see off Sagawa Kyubin Chugoku and newcomers FC Central Chugoku to take the title, while in Hokkaido - where the campaign is also just over half way through - it's hard to see beyond reigning champions Norbritz Hokkaido, as none of the other clubs seem capable of mounting a consistent challenge to their longstanding superiority.
In Hokushinetsu, however, things are altogether more competitive, for although there are only two rounds of fixtures remaining it's hard to pick a single winner from 2005 champions Nagano Elsa, Japan Soccer College and newly-promoted Matsumoto Yamaga Club. Matsumoto are at present in third, but have eminently winnable games against lowly Ueda Gentian and Niigata University of Management remaining; JSC and frontrunners Nagano should be able to win their next matches, but then face each other in the last fixture of the season in September.

Things have already been decided in Kansai, where with only one match to go Banditonce Kobe have retained their title and will this year be joined in the Play-off by runners up FC Mi-o Biwako Kusatsu, who last year were playing Division 2 football under the name of Sagawa Kyubin Kyoto. The Kanto League has four rounds remaining and 2005 winners Luminozo Sayama now seem to be finding enough form to qualify again, although surprise package Yaita SC look probable champions - in which case they will be taking their first ever shot at JFL membership.

11 Jul 06 - Still aiming to hold on to the Tokai League title, Shizuoka FC

Still aiming to hold on to the Tokai League title, Shizuoka FC

Down in Kyushu, V Varen Nagasaki have taken over the mantle of Rosso Kumamoto as the top side and are odds-on to take the title, but with around five matches to go for most teams it's anyone's guess who will be able to fill the second spot open to them this year. Nippon Steel Oita, Volca Kagoshima and New Wave Kitakyushu have chopped and changed throughout the year as V Varen's closest challengers, with New Wave perhaps just likely to have enough to pip the other two. Four rounds to play in Shikoku and it's the relaunched Takamatsu-based club Kamatamare Sanuki who are the probable winners at the expense of champions Nangoku Kochi, although a late push from the latter is still a possibility.

The final two leagues are chiefly being contested between two teams. TDK Akita and Grulla Morioka actually shared the title in Tohoku last year but Grulla are not as strong this time around and even with half the season still remaining, TDK appear certain to take the crown on their own. The Tokai League, meanwhile, is between newly-promoted FC Gifu and traditional powerhouses Shizuoka FC and with five games to go, Gifu's recent win over Shizuoka would seem to indicate that, assuming they don't make any silly mistakes, the title is theirs for 2006.

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