Japanese Non-league Football News

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.

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