The J. League on Thursday announced that the Levain Cup final will take place on Jan. 4, 2021 at Tokyo’s National Stadium, nearly two months after the game’s original date.
The showdown between Kashiwa Reysol and FC Tokyo, originally scheduled for Nov. 7, was postponed after Reysol suffered a coronavirus cluster infection among its players and staff beginning Nov. 2. That outbreak forced the league to postpone two first-division games which will be made up in early December.
While officials considered holding the final between the J1’s Dec. 19 finale and the Emperor’s Cup semifinals on Dec. 27, the early 2021 date was chosen due to Tokyo’s Asian Champions League commitments, which will see the team travel to Doha on Nov. 19 and possibly stay through the continental competition’s Dec. 19 final.
Tokyo, which is currently in third place in the J1 with four games remaining, can still theoretically finish the season in second place and qualify for the Emperor’s Cup semifinals alongside presumptive league champion Kawasaki Frontale.
“Because of the potential (for Tokyo to reach the ACL final), it was difficult to schedule the Levain Cup for FC Tokyo between Dec. 19 and 27,” league chairman Mitsuru Murai said. “Right now players returning from overseas will have to isolate. We’ve been in negotiations but it’s not a simple thing and we determined that putting a match in that period would be risky.
“There’s still the possibility that Tokyo won’t reach the final and they could return to Japan earlier. In that case it might have been possible to schedule the match for (later in December), but in order to make it easier for fans who have purchased tickets we can’t create a situation where there are multiple reschedulings.”
Further complicating matters are current regulations intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus within Japan, which would see Tokyo players and staff returning from Qatar forced to isolate for two weeks. Should Kenta Hasegawa’s men reach the ACL final, that would leave them unable to train as a team until as late Jan. 3 — the day before the Levain final.
However, Murai said the league was working with the Japan Football Association as well as the Japanese government to potentially create a “bubble” for Tokyo, which would allow players and staff to train together in an isolated facility while regularly undergoing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
Tickets to the final — limited to 24,000 in order to ensure attendees can properly physically distance — sold out within an hour after they were made available to the public. While the game is traditionally held on a Saturday, the rescheduled fixture will take place on a Monday — one that immediately follows the New Year holiday.
“This game sold out within an hour of tickets going on sale and this tournament has been going since the start of the J. League,” Murai said.
“We recognize that everyone who bought a ticket will have to adjust their schedule, which is why we wanted to make this decision as quickly as possible.”
League officials said that clubs were working to ensure that the Jan. 4 finish to the season would not cause any problems for either Reysol or Tokyo’s foreign players in terms of their contracts or visas.
The league will also take steps to ensure that players from both teams have two weeks of rest before the start of their preseason, although J. League Vice Chairman Hiromi Hara noted that the lack of a finalized ACL schedule — as well as the potential for further waves offections to continue into the new year — were considerable roadblocks for league planners.
“We need a flexible calendar to deal with potential issues. This year we only had promotion but next year will be more difficult because the J1 will have to return to 18 clubs for 2022,” Hara said. “We’ll have to look at the potential for clusters and close contacts (to affect the schedule) … It will be difficult. If they decide the ACL situation soon we’ll be able to come up with our own plans.”
Hara, who regularly acts a front-facing spokesman for the league through regular appearances on its official YouTube channel, touted the presence of Reysol striker and league-leading scorer Michael Olunga and Tokyo talisman Leandro as reasons that fans should tune in — even if they have to do so during work hours.
“Both Tokyo (2004 and ‘09) and Reysol (1999 and 2012) have won all of their Levain Cup finals,” noted Hara. “It will be Jan. 4, but I think it will be an exciting game and an appropriate end to the season.”
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