The J.League first division has closed down now for six weeks because of the national team's commitments.
After 10 rounds of matches in the first stage, Jubilo Iwata lead the way with 21 points, followed by JEF United (20), Kashima Antlers (19), Nagoya Grampus Eight (18) and then Yokohama F Marinos and Kashiwa Reysol, both on 17 points.
This means that only four points separate the top six teams, and an exciting finish is in store when play resumes July 5.
Attendances are up, too.
A total of 1,352,973 fans have watched the first 10 rounds at an average of 16,912, much higher than the 2002 average of 16,368.
J.League chairman Masaru Suzuki says one reason for the increase is the number of exciting matches. Another is because of the abolishment of extra time and the golden goal.
I think Suzuki-san is right on this point concerning extra time.
It was a big step forward for the J.League to scrap extra time, and end league games at 90 minutes like they do all around the world.
I am sure fans and players appreciate that, as well as coaches and television schedule planners.
Coaches know that a game lasts 90 minutes, and can use their three substitutes with tactics in mind. Before, with extra time looming, it was a question of holding back substitutes in case someone got injured. At that time, the J.League allowed teams to use three subs in 90 minutes and a fourth in extra time, which was totally against the world trend.
I think the new system is fairer, too.
I always felt sorry for a team that played well for 90 minutes, and was beaten deep into extra time by a lucky goal. They got nothing for their efforts, while the other team got two points.
Just look at Nagoya Grampus.
They have won four and drawn six of their games to remain the only unbeaten team.
If they had won those six drawn games in extra time, they would have had 24 points now (12 for four wins in 90 minutes, and 12 for six two-point wins in extra time). This means they would have been top of the table, but would not deserve to be for winning only four games in regulation.
If they had lost those six drawn games in extra time, they would have had only 12 points and be nowhere near the top. This would have been unfair, too, because their consistency deserved a higher place.
Fourth position is about right for Grampus.
Play in extra time was often scrappy as the players were tired, especially in the summer months. Winning goals tended to come from mistakes, not skillful play, and brought an unsatisfactory conclusion.
Now all the J.League needs to do is scrap the two-stage system and replace it with a single stage like in Europe.
But that's another story for another day!