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Thursday, 5 March 2009

J. League is back! 2009 Starts Here!

I’ve had a holiday back in England and I've taken up snowboarding. I’ve watched a three hour film or two. I’ve designed a t-shirt and I’ve had root canal surgery on a troublesome molar. I’ve visited the biggest floral clock on planet earth. I’ve read prodigious amounts of literature. I’ve rediscovered the Civilization game series and I’ve converted to Buddhism. So how’s your closed season been?

It’s not been easy, but hang on in there folks, the 2009 instalment of the most exciting league in the world is only days away. Amazing J welcome back – we’ve missed you!

It was a relatively low key off season all told. There was less transfer activity than in previous years, but for ourselves, not a bad winter break by any stretch. With Johnsen and Nagai coming in to fill the spaces left by the departed Nishizawa and Yajima, we’re equipped this year with a far stronger presence up front, more attacking options, and all-round greater fire power; the lack of which cost us so dearly in 2008.

Our meekness in front of goal last year was the difference between not only a Nabisco Cup title, but also an ACL spot. That’s a fact. But what’s also a fact is that over the course of the season, the development of us as a team, and in particular the progress of Okazaki and Hara in the final third, was tangible. In the second half of the season we were the best team in the country.

Going by pre-season, Kenta is looking to stick with 4-4-2, which is no bad thing. Paulo’s on top of his game, Edamura is instrumental, Hyodo’s leading the troops as captain and Teru is as essential as ever. Let’s also not forget the huge strides made by Yamamoto and Honda last year. The return of Jungo after that injury at the Omiya Monsoon only adds to our options, but he may have a job ahead of him reclaiming a regular starting spot!

We lost Takagi to Gamba, but we’re no pushovers at the back even minus Kazumichi. Aside from defensive regulars Aoyama and Ichikawa, youngster Iwashita has been coming on nicely. He can expect a lot more starts this year, and I’m also looking forward to seeing what new signing Ota is made of.

Being a mere supporter, I’m glad it’s not up to me to work out and select the best starting combination from that lot! That’s down to Kenta. It’s just my job to criticise when it goes wrong. ;-) Seriously, though I have faith in our man at the helm to work our newcomers into the team.

We start our campaign in Saitama with a trip to Omiya. Due to the unfortunate way the fixtures fell (Nagoya away in a fortnight was always high on my list, and as much as I’d like to, I can’t get away with two BDOs in such quick succession!) I’ll be at Dream House watching it on the big screen.

Our first home game is against Marinos, and it won’t be much short of a sell out. Personally, I can’t bloody wait! After that, we squeeze in three more games this month, but it’s at the end of April when it really kicks up a notch. Can we get to five games in two weeks (including a Hiroshima BDO, Urawa at Ecopa and the away derby)? Yes we can!

This Saturday, to tide me over till next week, I’ll be heading deep into the countryside to hit the Yamaha. It’s just a happy coincidence that Jubilo's opponents and J1 new boys Yamagata share a common kit with my first footballing love, Brighton and Hove Albion.

Montedio Yamagata and Brighton and Hove Albion - An Unlikely Partnership
What with the nearest Albion games being 6000 miles away, it doesn’t get too many airings these days, but I’ll be clad in the blue and white stripes this Saturday – go Montedio! :-)