Another thrilling J.League season concluded at the start of December, with Kawasaki Frontale creating more history in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League as they claimed their fourth league triumph in five years.
Toru Oniki’s side successfully defended their 2020 title and added to those won in 2017 and 2018 in swashbuckling style, sweeping to a record 92 points at the summit with a goal difference of +53 after losing just twice all season.
Yokohama F·Marinos came second on 79 points and were top scorers with 82 goals after finding the net once more than Kawasaki, while Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe were six points further back and achieved their highest ever finish of third to book the final automatic AFC Champions League berth for 2022.
At the other end of the table, the relegation battle went right down to the wire, and after some final day drama Shimizu S-Pulse and Shonan Bellmare managed to make sure of safety at the expense of Tokushima Vortis, who slipped back down to the second tier.
Oita Trinita, Vegalta Sendai, and Yokohama FC had already fallen through the trapdoor by that point, but each put up brave fights and will be determined to make their way back up again next season.
Two familiar faces showed them exactly how that is done this year, with Júbilo Iwata crowned Meiji Yasuda J2 League champions and Kyoto Sanga following them into the top flight as runners-up.
Iwata are returning after two seasons in the second division and will be looking forward to resuming the Shizuoka derby with Shimizu next year, while Kyoto are back in J1 for the first time in over a decade, after they were relegated in 2010.
The scrap for survival at the bottom of J2 was just as fierce as that in the first division, and even though Ehime FC, Giravanz Kitakyushu, and Matsumoto Yamaga had already been condemned on the penultimate weekend, the final round of games saw four teams in danger of relegation.
By full-time Omiya Ardija, Zweigen Kanazawa, and Thespakusatsu Gunma had lived to fight another day though, with S.C.Sagamihara the unfortunate fourth team to suffer the drop to the third tier.
There was nail-biting action right to the last in the 2021 Meiji Yasuda J3 League as well, with Tegevajaro Miyazaki at the summit but having already played their 28 matches ahead of the final day, and Roasso Kumamoto and Iwate Grulla Morioka in need of points to leapfrog them and ensure promotion.
Both ultimately managed to achieve their objectives, with Kumamoto winning to be crowned champions and return to J2 after three years away with 54 points, while Iwate picked up the draw they required to finish second on 53 points and edge out Miyazaki by a goal difference of +15 to +13.
As ever, all three divisions demanded attention right to the death in 2021, and after a short break the J.League’s 55 teams will be raring to go again and are sure to provide plenty more thrills and spills in 2022!