J-League clubs look to split squads to honour domestic and continental commitments

FILE PHOTO: Japan Football Association (JFA) logo on its national team's uniform is pictured at its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Japanese clubs playing in the Asian Champions League (ACL) will look to balance commitments in both the continental championship and the J-League’s top flight despite clashes due to changes in the schedules of the two competitions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.Three teams – Japanese champions Yokohama F Marinos, Emperor’s Cup winners Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo – have qualified for the group phase of the ACL, slated to resume in mid-November after an original plan to restart in mid-October was abandoned.But with matches in the J-League’s top J1 division also pushed back to December after a four-month break, clubs involved in the ACL face a major dilemma.Final games of the J-League season are due on Dec. 19, the same date as the decider in the ACL, but officials stated the clubs’ desire to play in both competitions meant the domestic set-up will try to accommodate their wishes. “Under normal circumstances both we and the Japan Football Association would have objected to the Asian Football Confederation’s decision to change the schedule again, but they made their decision and while we were disappointed we spoke to the three clubs,” J-League Vice President Hiromi Hara was quoted saying by the Japan Times.“All three clubs unequivocally said that they want to contest both the J1 and the ACL as best as they can ... The ACL is the biggest club competition in Asia and the clubs want to do as well as they can in the J1, so we respected their wishes (in deciding the schedule).”

LEAGUE GAMES The three Japanese clubs played twice in ACL group matches prior to the competition’s suspension in March and as a result will not resume play in the competition until Nov. 24 and 25, when it is played in an as-yet undecided centralised venue.Group games will be completed by Dec. 3, with games in the Round of 16 to be played on Dec. 6 and 7 and the quarter-finals to be held on Dec. 10. The semi-finals will be on Dec. 13, with the final six days later.As a result, clubs who advance to the final on Dec. 19 could be involved in as many as five league games, while players will also need to undergo a 14-day quarantine when they return to Japan.The most likely option for participating clubs in both competitions will see squads and coaching staff divided into two, which may require the J-League to waive regulations over qualifications held by those on the bench in league fixtures.“The clubs will have different selection criteria based on ACL and J-League regulations,” Takashi Kuroda, the league’s general manager of competitions, said. “If the AFC can’t change its regulations, the J-League could change its regulations in order to help clubs compete in both competitions.”Clubs in the west of Asia resumed play in the group phase of the competition last month in Doha and on Saturday Iran’s Persepolis will play Al Nassr from Saudi Arabia in the semi-finals.The winners will meet the top team from east Asia in the final on Dec. 19.

(Reporting by Michael Church; Editing by David Holmes)

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