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Friday, 7 March 2008

2008 J1 Kick Off: What Can We Expect?

The 2008 J.League season kick-off under the cloud of allegations of the gambling syndicate influenced fixing of last week's Super Cup. We hope that the league will take firm action to investigate this travesty of a game and its "officiating" that brought the game in Japan into such disrepute, regardless of whether the fixing allegations turn out to be true or not. (See Japan Times, Kyodo.) However, it is the start of a new season and hope springs eternal in football fans in Japan. Let's hope this optimism about the integrity of the league is justified.

Saturday sees Grampus take on newly promoted Kyoto Sanga in a game that both teams will be keen to win as it may represent their best chance to build some confidence in what is likely to prove to be a long season for both clubs. For Grampus, it will see the dawn of the Dragan Stojkovic era, as the legendary Pixie attempts to lead the team as manager. Having lost Honda to VVV during the off-season, and missing experienced defender Masayuki Omori through injury, Nagoya could struggle defensively in the opening games of the season until new signings settle into the team. Signings such as Milos Bajalica and midfielder Magnum should impress this year, but will they do so from the opening game? Stojkovic and hordes of Grampus fans will be hoping that they can. Fortunately, two other experienced hands Keiji Yoshimura and Toshiya Fujita look as though they will be back from injury lay-offs in time for the opening game.

Sanga on the other hand, have two vastly experienced additions to the team this year with Sidiclei, previously one of the best defenders in the league, arriving from Gamba Osaka and striker Atsushi Yanagisawa arriving from Kashima Antlers. They will join former Japan captain Ryuzo Morioka in a team that also includes Makoto Kakuda and Yusuke Nakatani who both used to play for Grampus. This gives them some much needed experience and players who will be motivated to do well in Nagoya. Kyoto have always struggled to stay in J1 and are likely to find it tough again this year, but their combination of youth and experience should see them manage to survive this year.

As for the result, I would expect a narrow win for Grampus, but would not be surprised by a 1-1 draw.

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