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All change as the J.League kicks off

Monday 27th February 2017
Last weekend the J.League officially kicked off with several captivating games which underline the changes in the league. It's a new year, new season and new system – with a very exciting set of results; as Japan kicks off another campaign.

The J.League is back; and due to a very controversial finish last season the league decided to change its system to a more conventional system – where after thirty-four games, the team at the top of the table is named the champions.

Yokohama F Marinos officially kicked off the new season as they hosted last year's table toppers, Urawa Red Diamonds. The match belonged to new signings of both clubs, David Babunksi who was a former Barcelona youth prospect found the net just thirteen minutes into his J.League career.  This put Yokohama FM ahead in quick fashion. Despite conceding Urawa still saw a lot of the ball, in total having 64% of possession. They made good use of the ball and equalised in the sixty-third minute via Rafael Silva who made his debut today too. Urawa then stepped up that beautiful fast build-up play that brought them success last season; Kashiwagi delivered a beautiful ball for Silva, who slotted it home to give Urawa the advantage; just two minutes after his first goal. His two goals make the league's current top goalscorer, with no other player scoring a brace or more on the opening weekend.

Although the ink on this story wasn't dry just yet, Hugo Vieira was introduced into the game for Yokohama shortly after they fell behind; and showed why he was brought in from Red Star Belgrade. The Portuguese forward also scored on his debut; to bring the sides level four minutes from time. Yet, the game astonishingly hadn't seen its last goal. Maeda who was introduced in the last ten minutes of regulation time made his mark in added time by placing a low-driven shot past the keeper, which saw the home side regain the lead and win the game. Hugely unexpected, this game could be the winds of change within the division.
Footage from the captivating game.

Kashiwa Reysol visited the Best Amenity Stadium where they took on the hosts, Sagan Tosu. The day started looking like the home side would take all three points with them scoring a goal in the first half. Although football clichés are just as valid in Japan as they are elsewhere – as this was a real tale of two halves. Three minutes into the second period Kashiwa were awarded a penalty which was converted by Cristiano da Silva to level up the game. Diego and Taketomi both scored within the last fifteen minutes to put the visitors ahead and win the game.

Another one of the key games was Kashima Antlers vs. FC Tokyo, where we got see the champions of Japan defend their crown for the first time. F.C. Tokyo has been buoyed this year by the arrival of the legendary Japanese player, Okubo. It showed as the team were altogether more resilient and limited Kashima to just four attempts on goal. Tokyo was also conservative in their progression but did manage to break the Antlers defence by virtue of an own goal. A bitter blow to the champions; as last years title win dwindles further in validity.

Kawasaki Frontale were the only team that made last year's top three to emerge from the first day of the season with a win. They visited the NACK5 Stadium where they played Omiya Ardija, Yu Kobayashi continued his great form from last season, by heading home Kengo Nakamura's corner delivery. He then repaid the favour to his colleague as he whipped the goal across the goal mouth, into Kengo's path as he slotted it home to seal the win in added time.
The weekend's last game kicked off at 8 am on a Sunday morning, which saw Gamba Osaka host Ventforet Kofu. Gamba were big favourites in the game given that their opponents narrowly avoided relegation last year, but seemingly weren't at the races in the game. They definitely saw more of the bottle but did precious little with it. They went in at half time at 0-0, as Kenta Hasegawa and his men had to reflect on a disappointing first forty-five minutes into the new season. Come the second half, things didn't get much better. Masaru Matsuhashi put the visitors up in the fifty-fifth minute. The rest of the half was largely frustrating for the Suita City stadium faithful as they continued to watch Gamba go close but find no end product. That however changed in the dying embers of the game as two veterans of the Japanese combined to salvage the day. Thirty-seven-year-old, Yasuhito Endō delivered a perfect ball into the box from a dead ball situation which Yasuyuki Konno was able to make contact with and steer into the net with his head. The goal will have come as a real relief for the hosts given their ever-ambitious stance on the domestic campaign.
Footage from the Sunday game.

Elsewhere Velgalta Sendai got the better of a visiting Sapporo side 1-0, whilst Vissel Kobe upset Shimizu S-Pulse's return to J1 as they won by the same score – but away from home. Cerezo Osaka marked their return to the top tier with a goalless draw against Iwata. Whilst Sanfrecce Hiroshima went ahead of Albirex Niigata via new signing Kudo, but ultimately drew 1-1.

At the end of the first weekend; there have been some real turnouts. Kashima Antlers and Urawa Red Diamonds losing out on the opening weekend. Kashiwa looking resilient, Kawasaki continuing their fine form from last season and Sanfrecce still haunted by the same defensive frailties.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 

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