After narrowly missing the J. League Division One first-stage title, the Yokohama F. Marinos are aiming to grab it in the second stage, which runs from Saturday through Nov. 30.

The Marinos, which won the stage title in 1995 and 2000 and captured the overall season title in 1995, finished with a 11-3-1 record, one point behind winner Jubilo Iwata. The Yokohama team beat title race rival Iwata in convincing style before the World Cup break but later suffered its only defeat to the Kashima Antlers, giving up the lead to Jubilo with one round remaining in the stage.

“We felt so disappointed because we had a good chance to win the first stage and finished without it,” Marinos manager Lazaroni said. “But we are now looking at it positively, and I believe our players have already shifted their focus to our next target.”

Thanks to their preseason signings, the Marinos have improved the quality of their game this season. The team gave away a division low 11 goals over 15 matches in the first stage. Even after the departure of star midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura to Italian Serie A side Reggina later in the stage, Daisuke Oku, a preseason signing from Jubilo, played well to fill the hole.

But Yokohama’s rivals — Jubilo, Nagoya Grampus Eight, Gamba Osaka and the Antlers — known how the Marinos play by now. Some clubs such as Kashiwa Reysol changed their managers and added new players during the short break after the first stage.

“It won’t be the same as the first stage,” said Lazaroni, who coached Brazil’s 1990 World Cup squad.

“It’ll be a matter of how well we can continue to keep and display the same quality as we’ve had in the first stage,” the 51-year-old Brazilian boss said. “None of the games will be easy. But I believe we have enough potential to win the second stage.”

The Marinos will visit Gamba on Saturday.

“It’s a tough side,” Marinos forward Norihisa Shimizu said. “But a win over them will give us a boost going into the second stage.”

Jubilo is aiming to become the first-team ever to make a sweep. Striker Naohiro Takahara has dominantly shown off his top form, finding the net in the last seven games to share the Golden Boot competition with 13 goals.

Nagoya, under the guidance of Zdenko Verdenik, seemingly started to gell as a team and forward Ueslei scored a hat trick twice during the first stage. Ueslei tied Takahara and Gamba forward Magrao in the scoring battle.

Gamba created chances with their side-attacks, from Toru Arabia and Shigeru Morioka, and scored 35 goals, second best to Jubilo’s 39. Nagoya came in third and Gamba finished fourth.

The Antlers, meanwhile, finished fifth in the first stage but are known as slow starters as they always do well in the second stage.

If Brazilian striker Euller can return from his groin injury soon, which he suffered at the end of the first stage, Kashima looks to have a good season.

Kyoto Purple Sanga enjoyed its best finish after coming in sixth place. Striker Teruaki Kurobe, Japan’s under-21 midfielder Daisuke Matsui and South Korea international Park Ji Sung are players to watch. But Kyoto may face tougher games in the second stage as opponents have studied its play.

FC Tokyo midfielder Naohiro Ishikawa proved his quality in the first stage and recently won a call-up for Japan’s U-21 Asian Games squad.

JEF United Ichihara got its star striker — South Korea forward Choi Yong Soo — back on form after his knee injury. Choi has scored six goals in the last four games.

Shimizu S-Pulse will get the service of Japan midfielder Alessandro “Alex” Santos again after the Brazilian-born player’s transfer deal with English Premier League side Charlton failed.

The Urawa Reds signed former Australia defender Ned Zelic, who has played for European clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Queens Park Rangers and TSV 1860 Munich, in the last 10 years.

Zelic is willing to take the role “as a leader on the team and use my experience in Europe to help our team improve.”

J1 promoted Vegalta Sendai was the sensation early in the stage and placed third before heading into the three-month-long World Cup break. But Vegalta suffered the latter half with a 1-0-7 record to finish in ninth.

Sendai manager Hidehiko Shimizu pointed out that his team suffered as suspensions and injuries constantly hit his team and his players had to fight the high heat and humidity in most away games, which they usually don’t experience in Sendai.

“But that’s something our players have to learn as a part of the game in J1,” Shimizu said.

Kashiwa Reysol, after ending the first stage in 14th place, has to battle hard to avoid relegation.

Reysol will be guided by new manager Marco Aurelio Moreira, formerly of Cruzeiro, who replaced Steve Perryman. The Brazilian boss came to Kashiwa with Brazilian midfielder Ricardinho, also from Cruzeiro.

Reysol’s rivals in the J1 survival race are the first-stage bottom finisher Consadole Sapporo, 15th-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and 13th-placed Vissel Kobe. Tokyo Verdy 1969 played well late in the stage but still has to work hard to secure its J1 spot.

Sapporo managed to earn six points over 15 games, giving away a division worst 35 goals. The team from Hokkaido recently acquired a few players, including Kyoto defender Jin Sato and Nagoya forward Yasuyuki Moriyama. But it will play without playmaker Koji Yamase, who has suffered a serious knee injury.

The second-stage winner will play against first-stage champion Jubilo in the J. League Championship final on Dec. 7 and 14 for the overall season title. The bottom two finishers will be relegated to Division Two.

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