J2 Promotion Play-Offs

Semi-Finals, November 26th

We are finally at the end of the Long and Winding Road that leads to . . . ummm  . . . . the J.League's top-flight division. The J2 campaign this season was very hotly contested, and many of the teams initially tipped as top promotion prospects failed to reach the goal. But now we are finally at the climax -- the final two chapters that will determine who joins Shonan Bellmare and V.Varen Nagasaki in the J1 next season. Four teams qualified for the promotion playoffs, and the two elimination matches (semifinals?) will take place next weekend. Note: The HOME team (listed first) finished higher in the J2 standings, and therefore needs only a draw to progress. 



Avispa Fukuoka - vs -  Tokyo Verdy

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Avispa Fukuoka still have Keisuke Iwashita on their injured list, although absolutely no details can be found on his injury (anyone?). The Yellowjackets of Northern Kyushu would surely like to play him if at all possible. Await updates on him. Otherwise the team report no injuries or suspensions.

Tokyo Verdy came through to a play-off spot thanks to a very late goal by Tatsuya Uchida (just his second for the team in 41 games!) and will be thinking that fate is on their side? A club with a storied history will feel they have the right to be in J1! No injuries and no suspensions! Full strength.

Avispa Fukuoka have messed up their once-promising season so much that even this “home” play-off is taking place in another city, due to scheduled maintenance work on their home stadium! Last weekend they were held to a 1-1 draw by Fagiano Okayama, allowing Nagoya Grampus to leapfrog them and claim home advantage if Grampus win their tie against JEF, and the two teams meet in the playoff final. The loss of their home ground, along with the frustrating draw last week compounds the frustration felt by the team that was in second place for most of the season. This may intensify the pressure on this team. But the one thing Avispa do have is experience and the team have come back from disappointments this season and I feel they can do this when it matters. With just one loss in their last ten matches they are riding the wave near the top at the right time. Their 54 season goals is not a bad haul at all and they had the best defence – along with Shonan Bellmare - in J2 in the regular season (conceding just 36 goals). The fact that a draw will be good enough for Avispa to progress may work well for them as they allow their opposition to come at them and then use counter-attacks to take the game in the end!

Tokyo Verdy have won six of their last eight matches to surge into the play-off spots on their very late win last week. They scored ten more goals than Avispa this season BUT conceded 13 goal more. This may be they key to this game. A draw is not good enough for Verdy and they must go out and look for the win. They may well score a goal but the space that they will have to leave looking for goals may well be exploited and go against them. The form of Alan Pinheiro will be key to this match. If he gets a chance, or even a half chance, whether he takes it or not will decide the pattern of the game. An early Verdy goal will make this one very exciting, but I feel that Avispa will sit back a little at first, frustrating their visitors.

With that decent defence in place and the knowledge that a draw is enough, Avispa may well play this cleverly and soak up pressure from a team that must attack, and then get them on the counter-attack to win it.


The majority of goals for both of these teams have come after the break. An amazing 43 of their 64 goals for Verdy have come in the 2nd half. May well be 0-0 or, perhaps 1-1 at the break. The winner (if there is one) coming late?

Historically, if not relevant:  These two teams have met 19 times since 2007 – all matches being in J2 – with a very close record: Verdy winning seven times, to Avispa's six victories. This season we saw a 1-0 home win for Avispa and a scoreless draw in Tokyo.


Nagoya Grampus - vs - JEF United Chiba

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Grampus came through to finish 3rd in J2 with a comfortable 2-0 win away at Kamatamare Sanuki. Simovic and Kushibiki scored, Gabriel Xavier made it through 77 minutes and is expected to start again in this play-off.

JEF United fought back from a 1st-minute own goal last weekend to beat Yokohama FC 2-1 and come through to the play-offs. They report only Inui as injured and have no suspensions.

JEF United fought back against all the odds to win seven games in a row and make it into the play-offs at the last possible moment. Literally – an additional time goal from defender Naoya Kondo saw them take three points and leap into the top six! They will be extremely confident after their inconsistent season ended with such consistency! To add to their fine form, they have  the knowledge that they have already beaten Nagoya twice this season in the league, and kept two clean sheets! The form book goes out of the window, of course, in a one-off play-off game with such high stakes but I feel that JEF have nothing to lose and can use their momentum, confidence, and the psychological advantage of two wins already this year and take this game to their opponents. 

Nagoya Grampus have by far the best attack in the division (with 85 goals), while they will be up against a defence that has conceded 58 times. The fact that Nagoya only need to draw to “win” this game might go against them, psychologically, if they begin to think that playing for a draw is best. As noted above, up against a team that has beaten them twice this year may also hurt psychologically, but this is an experienced team with an experienced (if not sometimes naive) manager who is NOT prone to playing defensively. IF Nagoya approach this with a win in mind, I see goals galore and at least a draw for the home team.

We are looking at the two highest-scoring teams in J2 for 2017 (155 goals between them) and two of the worst defences – despite their high finishes (123 goals conceded between these two defences). In 84 games involving these teams, we have seen 278 goals – an average of over 3,3 goals per game. This will surely not be a 0-0 draw, even if Nagoya go for that, knowing a draw is enough. JEF MUST win so will go for goals, this will leave space for Nagoya's prolific attack to utilise. Even if Grampus “take it easy” (knowing that draw is enough) there will still be goals at both ends.

In a nutshell....

As noted above, goals galore at both ends for both of these teams won't be giving us a goalless game. JEF will go all out and the game will be very open! A 3-3 draw anyone?

Historically... these two teams met 18 times between 2003 and 2009 – in J1 and the J.League Cup – with nine victories for Grampus and five for JEF during that spell. More recently, and relevantly – since Nagoya's relegation for the 2017 season they have met twice, and JEF won both games: 3-0 away and 2-0 at home.




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