A new season of Meiji Yasuda J1 League football is upon us!
The best teams in all of Japan will battle for the crown of the country’s top team, not to mention AFC Champions League places, city or prefecture bragging rights and, for an unfortunate few, the right to just stay in the top flight.
Here is one thing you definitely want to keep an eye on:
J.League clubs dreaming big in AFC Champions League
The COVID-19 pandemic and a schedule change has made 2023 a unique year for the AFC Champions League.
First, the 2022 Asian champion still has to be crowned, and it could be Urawa Reds.
Urawa conquered the East Region, winning four matches and drawing one in group play before dispatching Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim FC, Thailand’s BG Pathum United and Republic of Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the knockout stage to reach the final.
However, pandemic-related delays pushed the final back to 2023, with the first leg set for April 29 at the home of the still-to-be-determined West Region winner and the second leg to be played at Urawa’s Saitama Stadium 2002 on May 6.
The Reds’ romp through Asia has been fueled by a spectacular attack that scored 31 goals in their nine Champions League matches. It has put them on the verge of a Japanese-record third AFC Champions League title so when spring comes around, all eyes will be on Saitama and whether Urawa can conquer Asia once more.
That isn’t all of the AFC Champions League action for Meiji Yasuda J.League sides, though.
The competition is switching to a new calendar that will see the tournament begin every year in August and conclude in May. That means a few months after Urawa’s Asian final, the next tournament will start and four other Japanese teams will begin their quest to lift AFC’s most hallowed trophy.
Yokohama F·Marinos, Kawasaki Frontale and Sanfrecce Hiorshima will enter the competition thanks to their top three finishes in the 2022 Meiji Yasuda J1 League and they will be joined by Ventforet Kofu, the J2 side that booked their spot with a shock run to the Emperor’s Cup title.
Will J1’s elite be able to shine on the continent in the fall? And will a second division team that earned their place by slaying five top flight clubs en route to their first-ever major trophy be able to carry that swashbuckling form into Asian competition?
Oh, and there could be a fifth J.League side because, while Urawa did not qualify for the next Champions League domestically, the defending Asian champion gets a place.
Two tournaments, five teams and the top trophy the continent has to offer? It could be a massive season in Asia for the J.League.
Four more things to watch for in 2023:
-Will it be a two-team title race?
-Who will be Japan’s next superstar?
-ASEAN stars across the J.League