J. League

Packed schedules await J. League clubs

by Dan Orlowitz

Staff writer

The J. League on Monday evening published its new schedule, setting the stage for a packed six months of fixtures as the league looks to make up time lost to the new coronavirus.

The first-division J1 League will pick up from its second round on July 4, with 19 rounds having been postponed since the J. League responded to the growing pandemic threat by shutting down all of its competitions.

The second-division J2 League will resume on June 27, the same day the third-division J3 League will open its delayed campaign.

The J3, which was originally scheduled to take place over 38 rounds, will now last 34 rounds following the withdrawal of FC Tokyo U-23 due to an inability to secure venues.

In accordance with government regulations intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19, all matches played before July 11 will be held without fans.

That means two key J1 derby matches will be played behind closed doors, with Gamba Osaka hosting Cerezo Osaka on July 4 and FC Tokyo facing Kawasaki Frontale in a fan-free Tamagawa Clasico on July 8.

Earlier on Monday, the Japan Top League Alliance — an association composed of Japan’s top-tier sports leagues — announced that such contests will be known as "remote matches" rather than mukankyakujiai, which usually refers to closed-door games imposed for disciplinary reasons.

Should the government allow fans to return to stadiums, the first intracity J1 derby with a crowd in attendance will be on July 22, when Yokohama F. Marinos play Yokohama FC at Nissan Stadium. Only 5,000 fans will be allowed in the venue that hosted the 2002 World Cup final, which can normally accommodate over 72,000.

In line with principles favoring reduced travel in the early rounds of the restarted season, many fixtures will stay relatively local until Round 8, scheduled for Aug. 1-2 — the first weekend in which stadium capacities could be expanded to 50 percent and away supporters would be allowed to attend.

The Levain Cup’s two remaining group stage rounds will take place on Aug. 5 and 12, both Wednesdays. The quarterfinals and semifinals will also be on Wednesdays — Sept. 2 and Oct. 7, respectively — while the final is set for Nov. 7, during the only weekend without scheduled J1 fixtures.

The schedule for the J1 has nine midweek fixtures, while the J2’s boasts a staggering 14 and the J3 just eight.

Between league fixtures and the Levain Cup, J1 clubs will play between 12 to 15 total matches in August and September. The league is also planning to play through scheduled FIFA international periods in September, October and November.

With few rest days between matches, teams are expected to take full advantage of a new FIFA rule allowing five substitutions per match rather than the usual three.

One week after the J. League concludes its season, the J1's top two finishers are scheduled to participate in the semifinals of the Emperor’s Cup on Dec. 27. The final of that tournament, which besides the J1 sides will be contested by amateur clubs representing each prefecture as well as reigning JFL champion Honda FC, is scheduled for Jan. 1 at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Absent from the J. League’s announcement is any reference to the Asian Champions League, which was suspended in early March with 21 of 48 group stage matches having been postponed.

While the Asian Football Confederation on June 3 reaffirmed its member associations’ commitments to completing the continental tournament in time for December’s Club World Cup in Qatar, it has yet to announce a revised format or schedule.

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