Despite being hailed as Asia’s best, clubs from Japan’s football league failed to overcome their regional opponents in the Asian Champions League. Last week’s group stages saw four clubs from the J-League bow down to their Chinese, Korean and Australian rivals with only one victory out of all the eight games they played.
China has improved greatly, with high salaries attracting very good players. With 2006 World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi now coaching the Guangzhou Evergrande, which took home the 2013 title, Japan’s Kashiwa Reysol was trashed to an 8-1 score on aggregate to end their AFC Champions League journey. Japan last won the title six years ago, and 2010 was the last time that two out of the country’s 16 representatives made it to the quarterfinals. Shimizu S-Pulse and former Iran national team coach, Afshin Ghotbi noted that, “Club budgets are growing in many Asian countries, while J-League budgets are either decreasing or remaining the same.” He pointed that high salaries attract more capable talents.
Earlier this year, Cerezo Osaka signed famous Uruguay player Diego Forlan, which people deemed as a change in the tides in J-League. But former national team coach for Japan, Philippe Troussier, said it was a unique scenario, as Osaka still lost to China’s Shandong Luneng with a 3-1 score at a home game. Brazilian player Vagner Love gave Shandong a brace to take home the win. Troussier noted that, “foreign players make the difference at the moment in China.” Adding that, “Chinese clubs are getting better than Japanese clubs because they have better foreign players.”
What was most shocking is defending and back-to-back J-League champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s loss of all eight games in the AFC Champions League. Ghotbi said it was the league’s style of play that lead to the team’s demise. “The trend in the J-League has been recently to defend deep and in numbers and look for counter attacks. Hiroshima has been champion playing a very defensive 5-4-1 organization and while this has been a successful formula at home, it has not produced success in Asia,” he commented. Hiroshima coach Hajime Moriyasu vows to do better in its next game against South Korean FC Seoul. A win is a must for Hiroshima to progress to the knockout stages and end its dry spell for the whole league.