Domestic Leagues

The most popular football clubs: Japan

Tokyo: Japan is one of the heavyweights of the Continental game, as are its clubs with several Asian championships to their name.

As a continuation of our series that has seen the most popular clubs reviewed in West Asia, we now turn to the eastern side of the Continent with the upcoming resumption of the J.League the perfect opportunity to ask you, the Asian football fans, to decide the most popular club side from Japan.

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Below are five candidates, based on their domestic and Continental success, select your favourite in the poll at the foot of the article.

Kashima Antlers

The most decorated team in the professional era of Japanese football, Kashima Antlers have won more J.League titles (eight) than any other side from their nation.

Not only that, the Ibaraki club have also won a record number of J.League Cups (six) which, added to their Emperor's Cup (five) haul, sees them lead the way with 19 major domestic titles.

They are also Japan's most recent Continental champions having lifted the AFC Champions League title in 2018, impressively seeing out the necessary result in front of 100,000 opposition fans in Tehran when they defeated IR Iran's Persepolis.

Known for their strong connection to Brazil, their most famous alumni includes South American stars Zico, Jorginho, Leonardo and Bismarck, while Japanese national team players Atsuto Uchida, Mitsuo Ogasawara and Naoki Soma have all worn the famous deer head crest.

Urawa Red Diamonds

The only two-time Continental champions from Japan in the AFC Champions League era, Urawa Red Diamonds followed up winning their nation's maiden AFC Champions League title in 2007 by lifting the trophy a decade later at the conclusion of the 2017 edition.

The Saitama side also had the distinction of becoming the first team from the Asian Football Confederation to finish in the top three of the FIFA Club World Cup when they defeated Tunisia's Étoile Sportive du Sahel at the 2007 competition.

While the club can only tally seven major domestic titles in the professional era, they are still acknowledged as one of Japan's most popular sides and are known for their passionate support base that routinely fill the imposing 63,700-capacity Saitama Stadium 2002.

Urawa also have a history of some of the biggest names in the Japanese game with Shinji Ono, Makoto Hasebe and Alessandro Santos all former players, while stalwart Yuki Abe and the charismatic Tomoaki Makino are still at the club.

Gamba Osaka

Famous across Asia for their distinctive blue and black shirts, Gamba Osaka can lay claim to one of the most dominant performances the AFC Champions League final has ever seen as they cruised to a 5-0 aggregate win over Australia's Adelaide United to lift the 2008 title.

But perhaps one of the most impressive feats achieved by the Osaka side was what followed relegation in 2012. Winning the J2 title the subsequent season, Gamba returned to the 2014 top flight in stunning fashion as they claimed a domestic treble in their first year back.

Owners of 10 domestic titles, Gamba followed Urawa's example at the FIFA World Club Cup by finishing in third place at the 2008 competiton as they defeated Mexico's Pachuca in Yokohama.

In terms of club legends, there can only be one headliner: Yasuhito Endo. The midfielder is heading into his 20th season at Gamba and the gifted playmaker has to be in the consideration for one of the J.League's greatest of all time.

Yokohama F. Marinos

The reigning J.League champions ended a 15-year drought to claim a fourth domestic league title at the end of last year with an attractive, attacking style of football under Australian tactician Ange Postecoglou.

Marinos are, in fact, the longest serving team in the top flight of Japanese football, having played at the highest level since 1982, also making them, along with Kashima Antlers, one of only two teams to have competed in Japan's premier tier of football every year since its inception.

While success on the Continent has eluded them in modern times – although two impressive performances in the 2020 edition so far promise big things to come – back in the early 1990s the club, then known as Nissan, claimed the 1991-92 Asian Cup Winners' Cup.

Several big Samurai Blue stars are strongly associated with Yokohama including a pair of legendary defenders in Masami Ihara and Yuji Nakazawa and, while Shunsuke Nakamura may have become more famous for his European exploits, he sandwiched those years with two stints at Marinos.

Jubilo Iwata

Of the five clubs listed here, Jubilo are the one with the least success in recent times. Indeed, the team was relegated last year and will play out the 2020 season in the J2.

Nevertheless, a golden six-year period between 1997 and 2002 was of such sustained success that the side warrant consideration.

Three league titles, two domestic cups and an Asian Club Championship title all came during Jubilo's golden years as the all-conquering side set numerous records including most goals scored, fewest goals conceded, most players selected in Team of the Year and largest wins.

While Brazilian legend Dunga was a central figure in the early days of that success, Jubilo's achievements were by-and-large a product of their talented Japanese core with Hiroshi Nanami, Masashi Nakayama, Naohiro Takahara and Takashi Fukunishi at the forefront.

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