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The J. League welcomed its 55th club on Tuesday after its board of directors approved the admittance of Aomori Prefecture’s Vanraure Hachinohe to the league’s third division.

Hachinohe, which had already received its J3 club license earlier this year, fulfilled entry requirements by finishing third this year in the Japan Football League.

With Vanraure joining Blaublitz Akita, Fukushima United, Iwate Prefecture’s Grulla Morioka, Miyagi Prefecture’s Vegalta Sendai, and Montedio Yamagata, all six prefectures in the Tohoku region are represented by J. League clubs.

“I hope (Tohoku’s clubs) will all work hard to excite the league,” J. League chairman Mitsuru Murai told Vanraure chairman Kentaro Hosogoe by phone.

Hachinohe’s path to the J. League took 12 years following its formation from a merger of Aomori sides Hachinohe Industry SC and Nango FC. The club first attempted to join the J. League in time for the J3’s inaugural season in 2014, but was denied on the grounds of insufficient facilities and instead joined the JFL.

The club was finally granted a J3 license in 2016 after the completion of Daihatsu Stadium, a multi-use facility that can also serve as an evacuation center in the event of a tsunami. Hachinohe, based in the southeast of the prefecture, suffered heavy damage to its port during the March 11, 2011 disaster.

“(Vanraure) has created a firm foundation … I have high expectations for the club,” Murai told a news conference. “Playing in a stadium built in an area hard-hit by the tsunami has made it a symbol of the region’s recovery. They have a lot of potential.”

Vanraure was the only club to earn promotion from the JFL after J3 license-holding FC Imabari, chaired by former Samurai Blue head coach Takeshi Okada, finished just outside the promotion zone in fifth place.

The league also announced that first-division clubs FC Tokyo, Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka will continue to field U-23 squads in the third flight next year, raising the total number of participating clubs to 18.

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