The final round of the J. League’s first division will take place on Dec. 19 despite overlapping with the final of the Asian Champions League, J. League officials said on Friday.
The confirmation from league vice chairman Hiromi Hara came shortly after the public release of the detailed fixture schedule for the remainder of the season.
With the postponement of the ACL’s East Zone already rescheduled group stage and knockout round from mid October to late November, the J. League was for a second time this season forced to drastically shift matches involving ACL participants Yokohama F. Marinos, Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo.
The three clubs are scheduled to resume their group stages from Nov. 24-25 in a centralized venue, likely Doha. The group stage will conclude on Dec. 4 and be followed by the round of 16 on Dec. 6-7, the quarterfinals on Dec. 10, the semifinal on Dec. 13 and the Dec. 19 final.
As part of its coronavirus countermeasures, the Japanese government currently requires all persons entering Japan to quarantine for 14 days, meaning that even players and coaching staff returning immediately following the group stage would likely be unable to participate in the J1’s final round.
“Under normal circumstances both we and the Japan Football Association would have objected to the Asian Football Confederation’s decision to change the schedule again, but they made their decision, and while we were disappointed we spoke to the three clubs,” Hara told an online news conference.
“All three clubs unequivocally said that they want to contest both the J1 and the ACL as best as they can. The ACL is the biggest club competition in Asia and the clubs want to do as well as they can in the J1, so we respected their wishes (in deciding the schedule).”
Takashi Kuroda, the league’s general manager of competitions, confirmed that season-finale matches would not be rescheduled in order to maintain the integrity of the competition and that the three teams would likely have to prepare secondary squads in order to take part in the final day.
“I think that’s how it will realistically work out,” Kuroda said. “The clubs will have to decide how they want to do it, but they’ll likely have to split into two.”
Kuroda pledged that the league was prepared to change its regulations in the event that teams did not have enough coaches with appropriate JFA qualifications on hand.
“The clubs will have different selection criteria based on ACL and J. League regulations. If the AFC can’t change its regulations, the J. League could change its regulations in order to help clubs compete in both competitions,” Kuroda said.
While the league has previously announced its fixture lists via releases, the league’s decision to hold Friday’s news conference was reflective of the difficulties it has faced attempting to carry out its full slate of competitions despite enduring a four-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For everyone to have worked to secure venues and (lock in the schedule) only to have to tear it apart and start over has been very difficult,” Hara said. “I think we all hope we don’t have to make any changes.
“It’s been very difficult for everyone at the clubs as well as the fans but I hope we can somehow overcome these circumstances.”