With the results from last Sunday’s games in the book, the play-off scene looks thus:
- Kyoto Sanga v V-Varen Nagasaki
- Tokushima Vortis v JEF United
Newcomers to the J2 play-offs should note that these games are done as a one-off game, with the home side just needing to avoid defeat to progress to the final (which is easier said than done given that last year both of the home sides in these games last year lost 0-4).
The teams have a week to prepare for these games. Here are some of the key players in the match-ups.
Kyoto Sanga v V-Varen Nagasaki
Previous encounters in 2013:
- V-Varen Nagasaki 0-1 Kyoto Sanga
- Kyoto Sanga 2-0 V-Varen Nagasaki
If you’d have said at the start of the season that V-Varen Nagasaki would make the play-offs, the men in white coats would have carted you away. That they have made the play-offs is nothing short of remarkable, but it is no accident. Some fine coaching, shrewd signings and a healthy dose of spirit have made Nagasaki the story of the season. Forward Koichi Sato is one of the main reasons they have made the play-offs, as the ex-FC Gifu frontman has hit 12 goals this year, and has excelled at playing just off the front.
Sanga did what most people realistically thought they would: be the “best of the rest” after Gamba and Vissel Kobe. The battery for this Kyoto side is on-loan Gamba midfielder Shigeru Yokotani. He has been wildly impressive for Kyoto, up to the point where Gamba must surely want him back. In the second half of the season he has been the best midfielder in the league. His goal tally of 11 is only one behind striker Kazuki Hara and his ten assists (not to mention numerous chances created) mean that he can hurt teams in all manner of ways.
Tokushima Vortis v JEF United Chiba
Previous encounters in 2013
- Tokushima Vortis 1-2 JEF United
- JEF United 1-2 Tokushima Vortis
This is very tricky one to call. Aside from Nagasaki, Tokushima Vortis have been the story of this J2 season. In July they embarked on a great run of nine wins from twelve games that propelled them into the top six, and despite looking like they had run out of steam, they produced a stirring win at V-Varen Nagasaki on the last day to confirm their play-off spot. At the sharp end of Vortis’ promotion push has been Tomohiro Tsuda, arguably the J2 player of the year. Tsuda has scored fourteen goals this year, many of them vital and he brings others players into the game, the main beneficiaries being Douglas and attacking midfielder Junya Osaki.
JEF United have been an enigma all season long. Capable of beating the best (they handsomely beat Gamba 3-0 back in July) but also capable of mind-numbingly awful results (see the home draw with Gifu and the fact that they needed an injury time strike from Akihiro Hyodo to snatch a draw with bottom placed Gainare Tottori to secure their play-off spot). Kempes finished top of the J2 scoring charts, but it is right sided player Koki Yonekura who has impressed this year for JEF. His energy down the flank gives JEF an impetus that no-one else seems to have in Jun Suzuki’s defensively minded approach.
If I had to make a prediction I’d go for………you know what, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the shows!