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Au Chung Behind the Scenes: Following J.LEAGUE’s first player from Hong Kong

As the first-ever J.League player from Hong Kong, Au Yeung Yiu Chung, better known as Au Chung, has had a great deal more media attention than the average member of a Meiji Yasuda J3 League squad.

J.League cameras were on hand to follow the biggest international star in the Japanese third tier from all angles as he got his Y. S. C . C. Yokohama career underway, taking part in an introductory press conference and a training session with his new teammates.

Enjoy this latest episode of J.LEAGUE Behind the Scenes, following a day in the life of Au Chung.

Feature

6 International Tournaments Where J.LEAGUE Players Shone

By Sean Carroll

Both the European Championship and Copa América get underway this weekend - tournaments at which some of the world’s best players will do battle to be crowned champions of their continents.

Vissel Kobe’s Thomas Vermaelen is one of those who will be striving for glory having been called up for Belgium, one of the favourites to lift the European trophy. The 35-year-old’s presence in the Red Devils squad makes him the latest in a long line of J.LEAGUE stars to be involved in a major international competition, and ahead of Belgium’s campaign opener against Russia we’ve taken a look back at some of the standout campaigns from days gone by.


1998 FIFA World Cup France

The global showpiece in 1998 holds a special place in the hearts of all Japanese fans, with it being the first time the Japan national team participated in a World Cup finals.

The Samurai Blue sadly lost all three of their group games against Argentina, Croatia, and Jamaica, but Jubilo Iwata’s Masashi Nakayama still managed to write his name in the record books in France by scoring the country’s first goal at the World Cup.

Japan were 2-0 down in their final match against Jamaica when Naoki Soma - now manager of Kashima Antlers - sent a long diagonal pass into the area towards Wagner Lopes, and after he nodded the ball invitingly back across goal the onrushing Nakayama was on hand to slam home and create history.

Plenty of other J.LEAGUE players enjoyed that summer as well. Patrick M’Boma of Gamba Osaka, for instance, was part of the Cameroon side that narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout round after drawing with Austria and Chile and losing to Italy - also notching his country’s goal in the 1-1 stalemate against La Roja.

Elsewhere, Nagoya Grampus legend Dragan Stojković and Željko Petrović of Urawa Reds shone for Yugoslavia as they progressed to the Round of 16, with captain Stojković finding the net in a thrilling 2-2 draw against Germany.

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Nakayama’s Iwata teammate Dunga and César Sampaio of Yokohama Flügels enjoyed the tournament the most, however. César Sampaio scored the first goal of the competition in just the fifth minute of Brazil’s opening game against Scotland, before also getting his name on the scoresheet twice against Chile in the Round of 16. His central midfield partner Dunga played a pivotal role in the team’s march to the final as well, with the captain playing every game and scoring the Seleção’s final penalty in the semi-final shoot-out win over the Netherlands.

Brazil would ultimately have to settle for a runners-up finish after losing the final 3-0 to hosts France, but there can be no doubt that J.LEAGUE players left their mark on a fantastic tournament.

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2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan

The first co-hosted World Cup in history saw Japan and South Korea savour the backing of their fans, and J.LEAGUE players performed vital roles for both teams.

All but four of the Samurai Blue squad led into battle by Philippe Troussier played in the J.LEAGUE, making history as they emerged unbeaten from the group stage to progress to the knockout round for the first time. The team drew an end-to-end opener with Belgium, 2-2, and then picked up victories over Russia and Tunisia, with Takayuki Suzuki of Kashima Antlers and Cerezo Osaka’s Hiroaki Morishima amongst the goalscorers.

The journey ultimately ended with a 1-0 loss against Turkey in the Round of 16, but by that point Tsuneyasu Miyamoto - ‘The Man in the Mask’ - had also carved out legendary status for himself.

Forced into action in the 71st minute of Japan’s opener against Belgium after captain Ryuzo Morioka went off injured, Miyamoto struck a fearsome figure on account of the black face mask he was wearing to protect a broken nose. He slotted into the defence effortlessly and marshalled the Samurai Blue back line to consecutive clean sheets as they beat Russia, 1-0, and Tunisia, 2-0, and although he couldn’t quite inspire Japan to further glory, his efforts to that point ensured he left an indelible mark on World Cup history.

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South Korea went even further in the competition than their co-hosts, with a handful of J.LEAGUE players featuring as they progressed all the way to the semi-finals.

Yoo Sang-chul, who sadly passed away earlier this month, and Hwang Sun-hong played their club football for Kashiwa Reysol, Choi Yong-soo was with JEF United Ichihara Chiba, and Yoon Jong-hwan, now manager of Chiba but then a player with Cerezo Osaka, were all in the squad, while one of the tournament’s breakout stars was Park Ji-sung of Kyoto Sanga.

Hwang and Yoo both scored as South Korea got their campaign up and running with a 2-0 win over Poland, before Park struck the only goal of the Taeguk Warriors’ final group stage game against Portugal to seal top spot.

After stunning Italy with a 2-1 ‘golden goal’ win in the round of 16, South Korea then eliminated Spain after a penalty shoot-out at the quarter-final stage, with Park one of the five Korean players to make no mistake from 12 yards.

That was to be as far as Guus Hiddink’s side would make it, however, but despite losing to Germany in the semi-finals and Turkey in the third place play-off, South Korea’s J.LEAGUE contingent had done themselves proud.


2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

An Asian nation was once again making international headlines in 2010, as North Korea qualified for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1966.

The Chollima were dealt an incredibly difficult draw after securing their place in South Africa, however, being placed in Group G with Brazil, Portugal, and Cote d’Ivoire. This meant North Korea’s J.LEAGUE duo of Chong Tese and An Yong-hak would have match-ups against the likes of Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Didier Drogba, and ahead of the first of these tests Kawasaki Frontale striker Chong provided one of the most memorable scenes of the competition as he wept with pride during his team’s national anthem.

North Korea made a real battle of that opener against Brazil and went in scoreless at half time, although they ultimately fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat. Unfortunately for Chong and Omiya Ardija midfielder An, both of whom played every minute for North Korea at the competition, that was to be as close as they would come to any points, and the following two games were lost 7-0 to Portugal and 3-0 against Cote d’Ivoire.

Nevertheless, the pair had given their all and flown the J.LEAGUE flag on the biggest stage and against the best players in the world, in the process gaining priceless experiences they will cherish for the rest of their lives.

This tournament also saw Japan create more World Cup history for themselves, as they progressed to the Round of 16 at an overseas finals for the first time.

Kawasaki Frontale’s Eiji Kawashima shone in goal, the centre back pairing of Yuji Nakazawa and Marcus Tulio Tanaka, of Yokohama F.Marinos and Nagoya Grampus, respectively, were immovable at the heart of the defence, while Gamba Osaka’s Yasuhito Endo - still going strong in the MEIJI YASUDA J2 LEAGUE with Jubilo Iwata at 41 - and Shinji Okazaki, then of Shimizu S-Pulse, both found the net in a 3-1 win over Denmark in their final group stage game. Those contributions helped ensure Takeshi Okada’s side qualified from Group E, along with the Netherlands.

Endo scored again in the penalty shoot-out after Japan’s Round of 16 encounter with Paraguay finished 0-0, but it wasn’t to be for Japan, who were ultimately eliminated, 5-3, after Paraguay converted all their attempts.


1995 Copa América

It isn’t only at World Cups that J.LEAGUE players have left their marks, and in 1995 an incredible half-a-dozen progressed all the way to the final of the Copa América in Uruguay.

Jorginho and Leonardo of Kashima Antlers, Shimizu S-Pulse’s Ronaldão, César Sampaio and Zinho from Yokohama Flugels, and Dunga, captain of Jubilo Iwata and the Seleção, were all involved as Mário Zagallo’s men sparkled in Uruguay.

Ronaldão, Zinho, and Leonardo all found the net as Brazil won their three group games without conceding a goal, before Dunga converted one of the penalties as rivals Argentina were eliminated in a shoot-out in the quarter-finals. After overcoming the USA 1-0 in the semi-final, the final against Uruguay also went to penalties. Despite Dunga, again, and Zinho both converting their spot-kicks, it was ultimately the hosts left celebrating.

Two of that J.LEAGUE contingent did make up for the disappointment two years later, however, when Dunga and César Sampaio went all the way to glory at the 1997 edition in Bolivia.


1996 UEFA European Football Championship

In 1996, Mladen Mladenović was an all-action midfielder for Gamba Osaka, finding the net 11 times in 20 appearances for Josip Kuže’s side. That summer, the Croatian was also in action for his country as they competed in the European Championships for the first time as an independent nation.

Mladenović made his first appearance in England as a substitute in Croatia’s second group stage game against Denmark, a 3-0 win, and then started the following game, a defeat by the same score against Portugal. The team were already assured of a place in the knockout stage by that point though, and Mladenović again came on as a substitute in the Round of 16 clash against Germany.

That was sadly to be the end of the road for Croatia, however, as they fell to a narrow 2-1 defeat to the eventual champions.

2013 Africa Cup of Nations

2020 MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE top scorer and Player of the Year Michael Olunga is perhaps the first player that comes to mind when J.LEAGUE fans think of the Africa Cup of Nations. The former Kashiwa Reysol man did indeed feature at the 2019 edition and found the net twice in Kenya’s 3-2 win over Tanzania, but the Harambee Stars sadly lost their other two games to finish third in Group C and miss out on the knockout stage.

There is, however, another J.LEAGUE player who made an even bigger impression on the competition.

Wilfried Sanou first arrived in the J.LEAGUE in 2010 when he signed for Urawa Reds, but in 2013 he was playing for J2 side Kyoto Sanga when he was called up to the Burkina Faso squad for the AFCON in South Africa.

Sanou came on as a substitute in Burkina Faso’s opening 1-1 draw against Nigeria, and then started the next match, a 4-0 win over Ethiopia. Sanou missed out as the team made sure of top spot in Group C in their next game, but was back in the starting 11 as Togo were defeated after extra time in the quarter-finals.

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Things didn’t end there either. Despite being drawn against powerhouse Ghana in the semi-finals, Les Étalons triumphed on penalties without Sanou, before he was again used as a substitute in the final against Nigeria, which was narrowly lost, 1-0.

Even so, it was a truly remarkable journey for the Kyoto utility man, and another moment of pride for the whole J.LEAGUE family.

Feature

J.LEAGUE Day: 29 facts for 29 seasons!

May 15th is a significant date on the Japanese football calendar, marking the anniversary of the inaugural J.LEAGUE match, which kicked off on this day in 1993. Known as J.LEAGUE Day, every May 15th stirs countless football memories and gives us another chance to look back through the game’s modern era in Japan. So, with J.LEAGUE Day here for the 29th season, let’s take a look back at 29 of our favorite facts in J.LEAGUE history.


1. Dutch forward Hennie Meijer scored the first-ever J.LEAGUE goal—the opener for Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy) in a 2-1 loss to Yokohama Marinos (now Yokohama F・Marinos).

2. Masashi Nakayama, known to many as Gon Nakayama, has the most goals in a J1 LEAGUE season, scoring 36 in 1998. He also scored Japan’s first-ever FIFA World Cup goal that year in France!

3. Kenyan striker Michael Olunga scored 8 goals for Kashiwa Reysol in a 13-1 victory on the final day of the 2019 season—the club’s last match in the second tier before promotion.

4. The J.LEAGUE holds a Mascot General Election every season at the FUJI XEROX SUPER CUP, with Vivi-kun of J2 club V-Varen Nagasaki crowned as the most recent winner.

5. The most shots in a J1 game came between Kashiwa Reysol and Shimizu S-Pulse in 1998, when the teams took 51 between them (Kashiwa 30, Shimizu 21). Despite Kashiwa taking more shots, Shimizu won the match, 2-1.

6. Tokyo Verdy beat Real Madrid 3-0 in a summer friendly in 2005, with Real Madrid featuring the likes of David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, and Ronaldo.

7. Shunsuke Nakamura is the only player to be voted J.LEAGUE MVP on two separate occasions—and he achieved this feat 13 years apart (2000 and 2013).

8. With their undefeated run to start the season dating back to 2020, Kawasaki Frontale have currently equalled the longest unbeaten run in J1 LEAGUE history at 21 games. This record, first set by Omiya Ardija during the 2012 and 2013 seasons, can be broken by Kawasaki Frontale with a win or draw in Matchweek 14 against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.

9. Hisato Sato notched the fastest goal in J1 LEAGUE history in 2006, scoring after just 8 seconds for Sanfrecce Hiroshima against Cerezo Osaka.

10. Tegevajaro Miyazaki are the newest J.LEAGUE club, and their entry into J3 this year means 40 of Japan’s 47 prefectures now have a team in J.LEAGUE.

11. Kashima Antlers and Yokohama F·Marinos are the only clubs to have never been relegated from the J1 LEAGUE.

12. Before the likes of Iniesta and Torres, plenty of other global stars played in the J.LEAGUE as well, including Zico (Kashima Antlers), Dunga (Júbilo Iwata), Hristo Stoichkov (Kashiwa Reysol), Patrick M'Boma (Gamba Osaka, Tokyo Verdy, and Vissel Kobe), Gary Lineker (Nagoya Grampus), Dragan “Piksi” Stojković (Nagoya Grampus), and many more!

13. In 1999, Kawasaki Frontale were the first team to be promoted to J1 as the champions of J2. F.C.Tokyo also were promoted that year as runners-up.

14. 38-year-old Yoshito Okubo is the all-time J1 LEAGUE top scorer, with 5 of his 190 goals (to date) coming this season for Cerezo Osaka.

15. Cerezo Osaka have a rich history of producing players with successful careers in Europe, including Shinji Kagawa, Hiroshi Kiyotake, and Takumi Minamino.

16. Takayuki Morimoto is the youngest player to score in J1, at the age of 15 years, 11 months, and 28 days. Takefusa Kubo has the overall J.LEAGUE record, having scored in J3 at the age of 15 years, 10 months, and 11 days.

17. You can watch the J.LEAGUE in over 50 countries/regions worldwide, as well as selected games for free on YouTube every week!

18. Nine current J.LEAGUE players share a birthday with the J.LEAGUE, and 3 of them play for AC Nagano Parceiro! Michiya Okamoto (FC Gifu, 1995), Yuga Watanabe (Kamatamare Sanuki, 1996), Kaito Umeda (Tegevajaro Miyazaki, 1997), Yuya Kuwasaki (V-Varen Nagasaki, 1998), Koki Gotoda (Mito Hollyhock, 1999) and Yota Tanabe (Mito Hollyhock, 2002) all were born on May 15th, as were Nagano Parceiro’s Hiroshi Azuma (1987), Kazuki Yamaguchi (1995), and Hiroyuki Tsubokawa (1997).

19. In its early years there were no draws in the J.LEAGUE, with all games producing a winner either inside 90 minutes, courtesy of a golden goal (called V-Goals) in extra time, or via a penalty shoot-out. Here are some of the best V-Goals, as voted for by fans in 2019

20. J.LEAGUE teams bow to their fans at the end of every match - win. lose, or draw.

21. As well as welcoming players from all over the world, the J.LEAGUE has also participated in referee exchanges, with officials from Scotland, Poland, and Australia among those to have taken charge of matches in Japan.

22. Kashima Antlers made football history at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016, becoming the first-ever team to benefit from a VAR decision. The J.LEAGUE side were awarded a penalty by referee Viktor Kassai, who was alerted to a foul on Daigo Nishi inside the penalty area by his video assistant referee Danny Makkelie. Shoma Doi converted the penalty to book Kashima a place in the final, where they lost to Real Madrid after extra time.

23. Four J.LEAGUE clubs (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo, Nagoya Grampus, Vissel Kobe, and Oita Trinita) have stadiums with either fitted or retractable roofs, in order to ensure matches can be played in any weather condition, but only three are currently in use. Nagoya Grampus’ Toyota Stadium has not used its retractable roof since 2015.

24. 54-year-old Kazuyoshi Miura makes headlines every year these days as the oldest professional footballer in the world, but the spotlight is nothing new to the Yokohama FC striker, who was the inaugural J.LEAGUE Player of the Year back in 1993.

25. The third tier of the J.LEAGUE, J3, started with 12 teams in 2014, with Zweigen Kanazawa crowned as the first champions and promoted to J2, where they have remained ever since.

26. Kashiwa Reysol made J.LEAGUE history by winning back-to-back titles in the top two divisions: First winning the J2 title in 2010 and then securing the J1 crown in their first year back in the top flight in 2011.

27. Some of the biggest names in the game have managed J.LEAGUE teams, including Arsène Wenger (Nagoya Grampus), Luiz Felipe Scolari (Jubilo Iwata), Carlos Quieroz (Nagoya Grampus), and Ossie Ardiles (Shimizu S-Pulse, Yokohama F·Marinos, Tokyo Verdy 1969, FC Machida Zelvia).

28. J.LEAGUE clubs must carry out community efforts in their local areas as a stipulation of J.LEAGUE membership, with all 57 clubs building bonds with their hometowns and contributing through a wide range of activities every season.

29. Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak broke J.LEAGUE records in back-to-back seasons for Nagoya Grampus, setting the mark for most clean sheets in a season (17) in 2020 before following it up this year with the most consecutive shutouts (9) in a campaign.

We hope you enjoyed these 29 facts and we thank you for joining the fun on J.LEAGUE Day! Be sure to follow all of our social media channels for more content on this special occasion!