J-League Season 2014: the J-League heads to its climax with Urawa Reds leading the pack
There's just something about the J.League! Year after year it always manages to produce a nail biting finish and this year looks to be no different.
Urawa Reds have been the dominant team for most of the season and just a month ago looked as if they'd coast to just their second league title after their 2006 triumph. Yet as is their want, and as is so common in the J.League, they've faltered over the last month and have come back to the chasing pack.
For many Reds fans it has bought back dark memories of 2007 when they threw away the title over the last few weeks, losing on the final day to bottom-placed, and already relegated, Yokohama FC to hand the title to rivals Kashima Antlers, their first of three consecutive titles.
Although they'll be breathing a little easier after results last round fell their way and they were able to edge back out to a five point lead over nearest rivals Gamba Osaka.
It was Gamba that appeared to have all the momentum, coming from the drop zone at the summer break to genuine title contenders with a stirring second half of the season.
Yet when they absolutely had to win against lowly Vegalta Sendai they blew it, conceding a 93rd minute equaliser to gift Reds a chance to extend their lead the following day, which they did when they dispatched Yokohama F.Marinos 1-0 at Nissan Stadium.
It sets up a simply mouth-watering clash in Round 32 this weekend when Gamba travel to Urawa. It could only be scripted better if it were in the final round.
A win for Urawa would see them crowned champions, a loss would reduce the gap to just two points and give Gamba Osaka all the momentum heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Saitama Stadium with be heaving for what promises to be one of the great J.League occasions.
Behind Reds, and we have to assume they'll qualify, the race for ACL spots continues in earnest. With nine points still to play for in the final three rounds, even Kashiwa Reysol in sixth, who have momentum with four wins on the bounce, are in contention.
Kawasaki Frontale with only one win in their last four are fading at the wrong time of year. If it stays as it is it will be a return to the ACL for the 'big three' of Urawa, Kashima and Gamba.
At the other end of the table the race to avoid relegation is just as interesting.
With Diego Forlan and Yoichiro Kakitani in their side at the start of the season, who'd have thought Cerezo Osaka would be battling to avoid relegation? Most pundits had them as title favourites and yet they look odds on to drop down to J2 for the first time since 2009, currently sitting second bottom and four points from safety.
One glimmer of hope might be that they face both Vegalta Sendai and Omiya Ardija in the final three weeks, teams that are also battling to avoid relegation. Not that their form would give their fans any reason to hope, with only one win in their last five, and even that was against bottom Tokushima Vortis. In that run are losses to Ventforet Kofu and Shimizu S-Pulse, teams also in the relegation battle.
The J.League has had a habit in recent years of having "big" clubs relegated. FC Tokyo (2010) and Gamba Osaka (2012) have dropped down to J2 in the last five years and Urawa came ever so close to doing so in 2011, while Vissel Kobe and Jubilo Iwata have also suffered the same fate. It looks as though Cerezo Osaka will be that team this year.
One thing that you can always be assured of in the J.League is drama, and drama all the way until the final whistle of the season and this year looks to be no different.
You just have to love the J.League!
Copyright: Paul Williams & Soccerphile.com
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