Japanese Non-league Football News

JFL 2007 Preview
Predicting the outcome of a whole league season is by definition a fantastically difficult thing to do, but it is possible to draw general conclusions about how the JFL might end up. This is because in recent years, the participating teams have effectively divided themselves into four very defined groups, with an elite battling it out for the title at the top; a fringe group of clubs not quite good enough to join them; a big gap to a third cluster who are still too good to be drawn into the dogfight at the bottom; and then, of course, the real strugglers.

It looks likely that in 2007 this pattern will continue, with champions Honda FC, Rosso Kumamoto and Sagawa Kyubin SC the most obvious title contenders. Honda have lost coach Hideo Yoshizawa and a number of experienced squad members, such as forward Shigeru Suzuki - but it is difficult to discount a club with such a formidable record at JFL level, even if on paper they are weaker than was the case twelve months ago.

Rosso coach Tomoyoshi Ikeya knows that realistically he will have only one more chance to deliver the dream of J-League football to Kumamoto. After the slump in form towards the end of 2006, there has been a huge turnover of players during the close season, the most notable arrivals being midfielder Tetsuhiro Kina from Tokyo Verdy 1969 and ex-international defender Kenichi Uemura, who has most recently had a spell at Kanto League side YSCC. But Yoshio Kitagawa and Yosuke Kobayashi - formerly of Alo's Hokuriku and Yokogawa Musashino respectively - both have excellent scoring records at this level, and Rosso look able to offer a genuinely potent strikeforce.

The other obvious possible title winners are the newly-merged Sagawa Kyubin SC, on the ostensibly simple basis that a third-placed team combined with a second-placed team really should provide an effective challenge. Masafumi Nakaguchi, previously boss at Sagawa Kyubin Osaka, is the man charged with welding the two squads together, although he has lost ex-Sagawa Kyubin Tokyo top scorer Tetsuya Okubo to the J-League and Kashiwa Reysol.

To be found in the next group of teams when gazing into JNFN's crystal ball are Alo's Hokuriku, FC Gifu, Tochigi SC, YKK AP and Yokogawa Musashino. Alo's have acted wisely to bring in Yuuya Nagatomi from Ehime FC in order to replace the above-mentioned Yoshio Kitagawa, but otherwise fall short in terms of overall quality; while Toyama neighbours YKK have lost loanee striker Hiroki Kishida back to Vissel Kobe and will be hoping that Sho Kitano, who travels in the opposite direction, forms a similarly effective partnership with the legendary Mitsuru Hasegawa.

Newcomers FC Gifu achieved promotion in part by peppering their squad with a tremendous amount of J-League experience, including the likes of Tetsuya Ito, Naoki Hiraoka, Yasuhiro Yoshida and Yasuyuki Moriyama. But there must be a question mark around their stamina to last the course of a lengthy season involving huge amounts of travel - and as Rosso Kumamoto demonstrated last year, the transition from Regional League to JFL is not an easy one, no matter how great the ambition and desire within a club.

For this reason, it is arguably Tochigi SC who appear best-equipped to mount a challenge to the front-runners. The club's management has stepped up its funding in support of coach Takashi Takahashi, who has brought in forwards Satoshi Yokoyama (ex-Shonan Bellmare) and Yoshiteru Yamashita from Kashiwa Reysol. Perhaps the vital cogs in the Tochigi machine, however, remain midfield duo Kenta Nagai and Kentaro Yoshida.

Yokogawa Musashino, meanwhile, have emerged from the pack in the last couple of years to become the highest-ranked amateur team in the division. They may find it difficult to sustain that position this year, but should still finish above halfway. Making varying levels of effort to join them will perhaps be FC Kariya, Gainare Tottori, JEF Reserves, Sagawa Printing and TDK SC.

Sagawa had a disastrous 2006 and have shifted a good number of players in the intervening months. They have been replaced by only a handful - but as these include former Ehime FC pair Kazuhisa Hamaoka and Hirokazu Otsubo, who both have very considerable experience in the JFL, the quality at the disposal of coach Yuji Hashimoto looks much improved.

There is less of a track record to most of FC Kariya's incomers and it is improbable that they will this year be able to make the major breakthrough towards which club management are working. In a comparable position are Gainare Tottori, who nevertheless achieved J-League associate membership alongside Tochigi, but experienced coach Koji Mizuguchi will have done extremely well if he is able to achieve something like a top eight finish.

Hard to forecast are JEF Reserves, who in their JFL debut season last year scored wildly unpredictable results, but with the professional infrastructure of JEF United behind them ought to be able to pull together enough victories to stay away from the bottom group. TDK SC, fresh from their Regional League Championship Winners' Play-off victory, may find life tougher and will rely to a great extent on the pro experience of striker Masatoshi Matsuda and the versatile Hideaki Tominaga.

Which leaves a group of five teams battling to avoid Honda Lock's experience at the end of 2006 - relegation back to the Regional Leagues. Arte Takasaki have suffered from real financial hardship and lost virtually half their squad in the middle of last season. Argentinian / Italian coach Jorge "Pipo" Rossi faces an extremely difficult task in reversing their decline, although Brazilian star Amaral, now 40, remains on the playing staff.

Another team to suffer during 2006 were Sony Sendai, whose form collapsed entirely during the second half of the year. The incoming players seem to add little to an already weak squad and it's therefore hard to imagine anything other than a very tough 2007; the same can also be said of Mitsubishi Mizushima, who have a vast squad apparently populated in the main by ex-high school players and Sagawa Printing cast-offs. This could be the year that the Okayama-based club return to the Chugoku League.

Elsewhere, to be fair there are signs of improvement at Ibaraki's Ryutsu Keizai University, but they inevitably find it tricky to compete alongside good semi-pro clubs when their players - for obvious reasons - lack experience. And last of all, FC Ryukyu would appear lately to have dropped talk of J-League associate membership, and while they have done exceptionally well to recruit Hideo Yoshizawa as coach from Honda FC, the squad with which he has to work is paper thin. All in all, the set-up in Okinawa is a long way from what Yoshizawa will be used to and a finish outside of the bottom half-dozen would constitute a good year's work.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Designed by aykm.