Soccer / J. League | J. LEAGUE NOTEBOOK

J. League season to include Olympic break

The J. League’s season only wrapped up on Saturday, but it’s already time to get out the calendars.

The league on Monday announced its dates for the 2020 campaign, which will see teams getting back into action earlier than ever to accommodate the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

The Fuji Xerox Super Cup, the annual meeting between the J. League and Emperor’s Cup champions that traditionally marks the start of the season, will be held on Feb. 8 at Saitama Stadium.

The J. League YBC Levain Cup will kick off on Feb. 16 — five days before the first division opens on Feb. 21, marking the third straight year in which the league will open on a Friday night. The J1 will wrap up on Dec. 5.

The second division will start on Feb. 23 and conclude on Nov. 22, while the third division — featuring 19 clubs following the admission of FC Imabari — will run from March 7 to Dec. 13.

All three divisions will go on break from roughly July 20 through Aug. 9 while the Olympics are being held.

Fans hoping to plan their early travel will have to wait a little longer to learn their destination, with each club’s home opener to be announced on Jan. 10 before the season’s full fixture list is revealed on Jan. 22. The Levain Cup’s group stage schedule will be revealed on Jan. 16.

More playoff tweaks?

Rudderless Shonan Bellmare managed just one win, three draws and six losses in their last 10 J1 games as the team struggled to recover from the resignation of former manager Cho Kwi-jea after a league investigation found he committed power harassment.

But the seaside club will still be in next season’s top flight after eking out a 1-1 draw against Tokushima Vortis in the J1 Playoff final last Saturday at BMW Stadium.

It’s the second year in a row that the J1’s 16th-place team has survived the promotion-relegation decider, which the first-division club hosts against whoever emerges from a tournament contested by the J2’s third through sixth-ranked sides.

The result brought on a wave of criticism from fans and journalists bashing the format, which sees higher-ranked sides host as well as advance in the event of a draw.

“This system is unfair to J2 clubs,” Vortis manager Ricardo Rodriguez said after Saturday’s game. “We won 22 games (out of 45 played, including the playoffs), while Bellmare only won 10 (of its 34 J1 games).”

The backlash seems to have reached the highest echelons of the J. League, with Monday’s scheduling announcement noting that the format for the 2020 J1 Playoff final is yet to be finalized.

“We want to consider the fairness (of the final) from various perspectives and thoroughly discuss the format,” league chairman Mitsuru Murai said Sunday according to Sports Nippon.

Friendlies announced

Clubs holding preseason friendlies appear to have selected Feb. 9 as their go-to date, and Omiya Ardija are bringing some international flavor to the Saitama City Cup.

This year’s third-place J2 finisher will host Uruguay’s Club Nacional de Football, winners against Nottingham Forest in the 1980 Intercontinental Cup. That year was the competition’s first as the Tokyo-hosted Toyota Cup, which after 25 years evolved into the modern FIFA Club World Cup.

The day will also see Kyoto Sanga’s new stadium open its doors with a match against Cerezo Osaka. The 21,600-seat Sanga Stadium is part of Japan’s bid for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

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