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When the history of the J. League’s 2020 season is written, it will tell of an unstoppable force that dominated the conversation from start to finish, demolishing every team in its path along the way, Dan Orlowitz writes.

And no, it wasn’t the coronavirus. In a year unlike every other, Kawasaki Frontale’s remarkable title run has made even their past championships seem almost pedestrian. And another empty space in the trophy cabinet could be filled as early as New Year’s Day, with Frontale having been seeded into the Dec. 27 semifinals of the Emperor’s Cup.

But could the pandemic have actually helped Frontale win the J. League? Skipper Shogo Taniguchi believes so. He says his team charted a blueprint for victory using the unprecedented conditions brought about by the coronavirus to their advantage.

Vissel Kobe players celebrate after winning their AFC Champions League quarterfinal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings on Thursday at the Al Janoub Stadium in the Qatari city of Al Wakrah. | KYODO
Vissel Kobe players celebrate after winning their AFC Champions League quarterfinal against Suwon Samsung Bluewings on Thursday at the Al Janoub Stadium in the Qatari city of Al Wakrah. | KYODO

With the building blocks of a dynasty already in place, Kawasaki’s focus next year will likely turn to the Asian Champions League, where the team has progressed no further than the quarterfinals.

But Vissel Kobe are already there. The tournament debutants advanced to the semifinals of the ACL on penalties 7-6 on Thursday after a 1-1 extra-time quarterfinal draw with South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings.

Next up, Vissel will face another South Korean team, Ulsan Hyundai FC, on Sunday in their semifinal in the Qatar “bubble.” Ulsan defeated Beijing FC 2-0 in the day’s earlier quarterfinal.

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