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Five reasons why you should definitely check out Japanese football

Thursday 14th July 2016
Don't starve yourself of football between now and the start of the domestic European leagues, watch one of Asia's finest football leagues, the top flight of Japan – the J1 League. It's open, improving (at dramatic pace) and generally full of goal-mouth action. Considering all eighteen J1 teams will be included in FIFA '17, why not watch and research the league so you know who draft in your J.League FUT squad...

The competitiveness of the league

The Japanese league is one of the few leagues where the phrase “anyone can win” actually applies, which is a breath of fresh air. Obviously, Leicester shocked everyone in England, but the French, German and Italian leagues have had the same league winner for several years now. The J.League offers a whole new side to footballing competitiveness. Take, for example, Kashiwa Reysol, they were promoted into the first division in 2011 and went on to win the whole championship in the same season. Could Middlesbrough replicate this feat in the Premier League? Very unlikely, after all, it took Leicester two whole seasons to win the league. On the contrast, Asian powerhouse club Gamba Osaka who has played in the FIFA Club World Cup and consistently been one of the most successful clubs domestically were relegated to the second division. The equivalent of Arsenal getting relegated next season if you will. A further example of how open the league comes from the Hiroshima-based club, Sanfrecce. Founded in 1992, the club dawdled around the lower end of the table and suffered a few relegations. In 2008, the team gained promotion back into the top tier and just five years later celebrated a back-to-back Championship wins in 2012 and 2013. In addition to those titles, they won the 2015 season despite finishing eighth the year prior.  Altogether this makes for an incredibly open league which makes for a real spectacle. Any team can win; any team can be relegated.

The emerging hotbed of talent

Some football fans are quick to criticise some lesser known leagues, claiming there's no quality outside of Europe. That's quite frankly not true. Japan's league system is producing top quality players which sign for major European clubs. Takuma Asano is one of the most recent Japanese names to transfer to a major European team as he signed for Arsenal from the J.League Champions, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, a few weeks ago. Takashi Usami has also just completed a transfer to the Bundesliga outfit, FC Augsburg after picking up several honours with former club, Gamba Osaka. Whilst these players are no longer in the league, they are a fine example to show that the league does have quality worth watching. The top European club scout's continual presence in Japan highlights that the land of the rising sun is materialising quality footballers worth your time.

The fans and atmosphere

Should you ever visit Japan and one of the games, you will have a real experience of a lifetime. There's a lot of facets that European football could learn from the Japanese game. The banter, chants and general tomfoolery are contained with the ground. It doesn't exist elsewhere, fans of all teams appreciate and respect each other. The J.League body gently reminds the fans before kick-off at every game that no discrimination, abuse to players or other fans is not tolerated. All of which are observed perfectly by the fans. This positive aura that surrounds Japanese football makes the sport a lot more inclusive. Attend a J.League game you'll see a lot of families, women and children altogether enjoying an evening's entertainment supporting their football team. Quite the different envelope of emotions and demographics you would when visiting the likes of Elland Road, the Britannia and St. James Park, all of which present rather jarring experiences.

The number of goals scored

The top tier of Japanese football is also very appealing due to its high standard of goals. 0-0 score-lines are proving to be somewhat of an oddity in the second stage of this year's season, as they have only been two such scores to date. This stage also has an exceptional tally of goals, twenty-seven games played and seventy-seven goals scored. That's an average of 2.81 goals per game. Notable contributions to the league's goal summation are the 3-3 draw between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Kashiwa Reysol, the 4-2 win for Kashima Antlers over the Hiroshima team and 3-2 encounter between victors Sagan Tosu and F.C. Tokyo. This promise of goals should be a major pull for any football fan.

The 100-year plan

Back in the nineties when the Japanese Football Association revised the whole league and international systems, the JFA created a one-hundred-year plan for growth and development within the country. The JFA's vision is rather refreshing; striving to be one of the best teams in the world whilst still remembering core values that football should be a pleasurable experience. As well these objectives the JFA has also set out for the country to have one-hundred professional league football teams by the year 2094. Football is now rivalling baseball for popularity in Japan due to the successes of the J.League, the 2002 World Cup and the JFA's ambitious plans. Why not join a growing fan base of Japanese football fans?

If you're still not convinced, then I urge you to watch the highlights from this game on match day two. A real corker of a game, featuring two delightful goals from Asano. If you still don't want to watch Japanese football, then there's no pleasing you.
Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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