Well, this is it, the final round of games in the J-league, until after the World Cup, and there are some absolute crackers of games with most of the top nine teams facing each other. There are also key battles near the bottom of the table, which always interest me more as anything could happen. Now to save all you beautiful readers some time, I’ll be cutting the previews down to three games I feel you should either watch or at least keep a close eye on this weekend. Don’t worry though, I will still mention every team that has a game, it just won’t be in as much detail as the three games I am looking forward to. Right, shall we start?   

Game 1: Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Cerezo Osaka   

This is the game I will probably be sitting down to watch as it will have a massive effect on what happens to the top of the table. Hiroshima are currently running away with the league, having a ten point gap between them and second-placed Tokyo, however, they haven’t won convincingly against good sides and they were hammered by Tokyo just a few weeks ago, you can read about that here (Hiroshima’s Invincibility Lost, Kiyotake Bags A Brace And Podolski Goes Quiet). Hiroshima’s last game in the league came against Vegalta Sendai, which they comfortably won 3-1. I am sure Hiroshima striker Patric will be wanting to add to his fine goalscoring form with a few against Cerezo this time out. The Brazilian has ten goals in fourteen games which is bloody impressive you ask me.   

Cerezo have been a yo-yo team this season, constantly dropping in and out of the top three. They head into the game in fifth position, just three points behind third-placed Hokkaido. Since their loss in the Osaka derby, Cerezo have struggled for consistency, however, they have gone unbeaten since the derby loss so it seems that loss to Gamba didn’t hurt them too badly. Their last game in the league came against Nagasaki which they also beat 3-1. They face a tougher task this time out against a Hiroshima side who has lost once all season but they could easily outclass Hiroshima on the day.    

I’ll go with a 2-1 win for Hiroshima, although I would like to see them lose, just so the league becomes a bit closer.    

Game 2: Gamba Osaka vs Urawa Red Diamonds    

This is one of the three games on Saturday and this, to me, is the most important out fo them all. Both teams are competing at the bottom of the table and as I have said before this fact just sets the game up to be a wildcard. The game could easily finish in a 3-2 goal-fest or be one of the worst 0-0 draws the world has ever seen.   

Gamba Osaka are currently the worst team out of the two as they sit sixteenth in the league and joint on points with fifteenth. They have seriously struggled with getting consistent results, however, they do play some good football at times. If Gamba could play like they did in the Osaka derby, every game then they would currently be fighting with Hiroshima for first place. However, they always seem to put in a good performance every three games and that will not get you anywhere. Their last league game came against Yokohama which they drew 1-1, will they be able to overturn Urawa and move out of the drop zone?   

Urawa have been a very mixed bag this season, they currently sit thirteenth in the league, however, they’re only two points above their opponents. When they are on top form, there aren’t many teams capable of beating them, however, their top form is a rare occurrence this season. They would definitely be in the bottom three if it wasn’t for Shinzo Koroki scoring six goals this season and I am sure he will be wanting to add a couple more to that tally before the break. Their last league game came against fellow strugglers Sagan Tosu and it ended 0-0, another chance to move away from the bottom missed. Will they finally start climbing the table with a win over Gamba?   

Game 3: Kawasaki Frontale vs Shimizu S-Pulse    

This game is my final choice for the weekend as it’s a great battle in mid-table. Both teams are a part of the chasing pack who are hunting down Hokkaido and Tokyo who occupy third place and second place respectively.    

Kawasaki have fallen off a little bit, allowing Hokkaido to sneak into third place, however, they only remain two points behind Hokkaido and a win against Shimizu will take them back into the top three. Kawasaki are the defending champions and have started their title-defending season brilliantly, however, they just need that little bit more, just like last season, if they are to successfully defend their title. They are a great team, they work well together and everyone chips in at crucial moments in the game. There isn’t a main superstar that the team is based around, they just work brilliantly together and achieve everything as a solid unit. Their last league game came against Kashiwa which they won 2-1, will they be able to replicate that result this time around?   

Shimizu are one of the many bunched mid-table sides that still have an outside chance for the top three positions. They currently sit ninth in the league and are currently in a balancing act which could easily end up with them fighting relegation by the end of the season. However, I believe they can make a serious push for the top three spots because they have some great quality in their squad, especially in Shota Kaneko who has managed six goals this season and looks to be capable of adding many more to that total. Their last league game came against Shonan where they won 4-2 and completely dominated the game. They will be hoping to do the same to Kawasaki, however, the question is, will they?   

Rest Of The League    

There are still some cracking games of football to be enjoyed of the weekend in the J-League and I would recommend you absorb as much as you can whilst the league is still playing as you do have a long wait until the league kicks off again. One of the games that nearly made it into was Vissel Kobe against Hokkaido as this is another battle near the top and it’s the last time I get to see Podolski in action. The other games are as follows; Yokohama vs Nagasaki, Shonan vs Jubilo Iwata, Kashima vs Vegalta, Nagoya vs Kashiwa and Sagan Tosu vs FC Tokyo.   

That is it from me this time around and this is my final J-League preview before the Summer break which is quite a sad thought. Thankfully we have the World Cup to look forward to and I will be cheering on the Japanese National side as I have come to love football in Japan.   

Thanks for reading the piece, as a reward go and brush up on your Central Asia footballing knowledge here (As Football Comes to an End in Iran, Central Asia has a lot more to offer!)