Soccer / J. League | J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

No intercontinental title shot for Levain Cup winner Frontale

by Dan Orlowitz

After mostly exorcising their reputation as “silver collectors” by claiming two straight J. League first division titles, Kawasaki Frontale have at last fully shed that reputation by claiming the Levain Cup in their fifth attempt.

Although Frontale’s hopes of becoming the second club to achieve a league three-peat are all but extinguished, its fans will surely be satisfied in a third straight season with a major title — the kind of success long anticipated during the team’s never-ending string of runner-up finishes.

While the club’s focus will now turn to filling the biggest gaps in the trophy case at Todoroki, namely the elusive Emperor’s Cup and Asian Champions League, Kawasaki will unfortunately be denied a chance at an intercontinental title contested by every J. League Cup winner since 2008.

In a news release curiously sent out midway through Saturday’s thrilling final between Frontale and Consadole Sapporo, the Japan Football Association (JFA) announced that the J. League Cup / Copa Sudamericana Championship, formerly and more popularly known as the Suruga Bank Championship, will not take place in 2020 due to logistical hurdles posed by the Tokyo Olympics.

Since the 2008 edition, the single-legged competition has offered nine J. League clubs a chance to square off against their South American counterparts, who have won four of the last five finals after a run of five straight wins by Japanese sides.

This year’s edition, won 4-0 by Athletico Paranaense over Shonan Bellmare, was the first held without a title sponsor due to Suruga’s ongoing legal troubles.

The JFA did offer fans some solace, saying that details regarding a possible 2021 edition of the championship will be announced upon confirmation.

Foreign fans enjoy cup final

In a positive first step for the league’s nascent efforts to market tickets directly to foreigners, Saturday’s final was the first to feature online ticket sales in multiple languages.

Fans had been able to purchase tickets in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Taiwanese and Thai through travel website Klook.

Three reviews posted after the final praised the service’s ease of use as well as the matchday atmosphere.

According to a J. League official, over 50 tickets were purchased through the website.

League sparkles up store

The J. League, no stranger to unique merchandise, is celebrating its online shop’s second anniversary through an eye-popping — and wallet-draining — collaboration.

Jewelry giant Swarovski is teaming up with 11 of the league’s first 12 clubs (minus the departed Yokohama Flugels) to offer crystal-covered mascot statuettes priced at a stunning ¥550,000 ($5,050).

The only mascot whose figure has actually been produced appears to be 2019 J. League Mascot Election winner Grampus-kun, while the others only exist as renderings.

Fashion-forward — and budget-conscious — fans may instead turn to throwback-inspired shirts customized by Swarovski for the same clubs, all of which are being produced to order at a hefty ¥26,400 ($242).

Frontale supporters also have a chance to spend big after Saturday’s Levain Cup triumph: Their club is offering a solid gold biscuit medallion for ¥110,000 ($1,010), a markup of roughly 300 percent over the market price of the actual gold.

Two clubs make push for J3

Of the four clubs in the fourth-tier Japan Football League awarded J3 Licenses in late September, two are still very much in the running for promotion to the J. League — if they can hold on for the required top-four finish in the last five rounds of the season.

FC Imabari, owned by former Samurai Blue head coach Takeshi Okada, have struggled in the last month, slipping from second to third place after picking up just two of a possible 15 points.

The Ehime Prefecture side, which narrowly missed promotion last year after finishing fifth, should have no complaints about its end-of-season schedule.

Four of its last five games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, including 12th-place Maruyasu Okazaki, 14th-place Suzuka Unlimited, and 15th-place Ryutsu Keizai Dragons.

Tokyo Musashino City FC sit in fourth behind Imabari on goal difference having won their last three. But the western Tokyo club must clear a bigger hurdle: its current average home attendance is just 1,265, well below the 2,000 required to join the J3.

Musashino has set an ambitious goal of summoning 5,000 fans to each of its final three home games in an attempt to fill the considerable gap, offering free tickets through a Twitter campaign.

Should both Imabari and Musashino earn promotion, it would mark the first admission of multiple teams into the J3 since the division was launched in 2014.

That dream will be deferred at least another year for fellow J3 License holders ReinMeer Aomori and Nara Club, who respectively occupy 10th and 13th in the JFL standings.

Neither current JFL leaders Honda FC nor second-place Sony Sendai have expressed interest in joining the J. League.

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