Kashima Antlers tasted glory in the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history on 10 November, drawing 0-0 away to Iranian side Persepolis FC in the second leg of the final to secure a 2-0 aggregate win.
Despite the intimidating atmosphere in Tehran – the 100,000-strong crowd did their best to will Persepolis over the line with deafening support throughout – Kashima held their nerve admirably, surviving a couple of early scares and growing in confidence as the game progressed.
Ultimately they were unable to find the net, but defensively they remained resolute to ensure the 2-0 win from the first leg in Kashima, delivered by goals from Leo Silva and Serginho, was enough to steer them to a maiden continental crown.
“I’d never experienced such an incredible atmosphere,” Yuma Suzuki, who was voted as the tournament MVP, said after the match.
“In the ACL this year we have had many really tough matches and I’m delighted we were able to go all the way to the title with the likes of Mitsuo (Ogasawara) and Soga (Hitoshi Sogahata), who have been at the club for a long time and never been able to win it. It’s incredible.”
The triumph saw Kashima become the third J.League side to lift the ACL trophy, joining Urawa Reds – who they succeed as champions after the Saitama side won the competition in 2017, as well as 2007 – and Gamba Osaka, who did so in 2008.
The title was the one major piece of silverware missing from Kashima’s trophy cabinet, which already houses eight J.League shields, six J.League Cups, and five Emperor’s Cup crowns.
Kawasaki win back-to-back J1 titles
Kawasaki Frontale became the fifth club to successfully defend the first division title on 10 November, being crowned 2018 Meiji Yasuda J1 League champions after maintaining their seven-point lead over second-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima with two games to play.
Despite conceding deep into injury time to go down 2-1 away to Cerezo Osaka, Kawasaki maintained their grip on the J1 trophy after Hiroshima also fell to defeat, 1-0 at home to Vegalta Sendai.
That enabled Kawasaki to join Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy), Kashima Antlers, Yokohama F.Marinos, and Hiroshima as having won consecutive J1 championships after Toru Oniki’s side claimed their first title in 2017.
“First of all I’m so happy that we were able to be crowned champions in front of all the fans who travelled here to watch the match today,” Oniki said after the game.
“Of course we wanted to decide it by winning or at least drawing the game, but ultimately our efforts over the course of the whole season have produced this result.”
The Kanagawa side certainly put in a huge effort to make sure they were able to successfully defend their title, never giving up on their pursuit of Hiroshima, who burst out of the traps and were 13 points clear of Kawasaki in May, and captain Yu Kobayashi insisted they will be targeting further glory in 2019.
“Next year we want to make it three titles in a row as well as challenging for all the other titles too,” the 31-year-old declared.
Iniesta and Torres discuss all things J.League
On 10 November the Meiji Yasuda J1 League’s Spanish superstars came head to head, as Andres Iniesta’s Vissel Kobe played host to Fernando Torres’ Sagan Tosu.
The clash ended in a tense 0-0 stalemate, and later in the month the J.League released an exclusive interview with the pair - the ‘Iniesta x Torres Session’.
In the video the pair discuss a wide variety of topics, including their friendship, thoughts on the J.League, and hopes for the future.
“Without a doubt it’s the strongest league in Asia,” Torres said of the J.League. “The players are skilled, and they want to be renown. If the J.League and Japan focus on becoming a world leading power they have the means to do so.”
Iniesta agreed, and was full of praise for the atmosphere in the stadium every weekend.
“I didn’t come here to retire,” the 34-year-old said. “I came to compete, to keep playing, to be a football player."
“What I like the most is that the stands are always full. When a team is on an away match their fans are always with them, it’s wonderful.”
The match between Kobe and Tosu at Noevir Stadium was one such example, with a bumper attendance of over 26,000, and Torres made it clear he has also been impressed by the style of support in Japan.
“Whether we win or lose, they’re always encouraging us. I hope to stay here many years and make them happy.”
Tokyo Verdy welcome players from Thailand
In July 2016 Meiji Yasuda J2 League side Tokyo Verdy entered into a partnership with Ascot International School in Bangkok, Thailand, with the aim of encouraging international exchange and enabling mutual benefits on and off the pitch.
This year the arrangement continues to go from strength to strength, and in October, Verdy general manager Kazuhiko Takemoto, development director Koichi Togashi, and former player Takahiro Kawamura travelled to Thailand to lead coaching sessions for players at the school’s affiliated Ascot Football Academy.
The program lasted four days, after which a further two-day football clinic was conducted for students at Ascot International School. Three players were then chosen to travel to Japan to train in Tokyo in November, two male to join sessions with the Verdy Junior Youth side and one female, who participated in training with the NTV Menina Serias team.
As well as taking part in these activities the U-16 trio also had the opportunity to watch the Verdy top team training, play games against Verdy’s e-Sports player, and also lend a hand behind the scenes on a matchday for the women’s first team, NTV Beleza.
The players thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the project’s success is expected to lead to more exchanges between Verdy and Ascot over the coming years.