With only one round of matches to play in the J.League's first stage, Yokohama F Marinos are the clear favorites to win the title and book a place in the end-of-season playoff.
This time last week, six teams were still in the running with two matches to play: JEF United, F Marinos, Jubilo Iwata, Nagoya Grampus Eight, Kashima Antlers and FC Tokyo.
Although the chances of Grampus, Antlers and Tokyo were very slim, as they needed to win both their games and hope all five rivals would lose their last two matches, they could not be ruled out, as football is so unpredictable.
For example, who would have thought Cerezo Osaka would lose at home to Kawasaki Frontale on the last day of the first stage in 2000, handing the title to F Marinos?
Last Saturday I traveled to Nihondaira to watch JEF United, who could have clinched the first stage if they had beaten S-Pulse and both F Marinos and Jubilo had lost.
Just in case this unlikely sequence of results happened, J.League officials had taken the first-stage trophy to the stadium ready to present to the JEF players. Rumour has it they put the trophy back in its box after 15 minutes, by which time S-Pulse were 2-0 ahead.
Instead of playing like the hungry young lions of recent weeks, the JEF players were more like startled rabbits, caught in the spotlight of the pressure-packed championship race.
F Marinos and Jubilo, away to Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol respectively, handled the pressure much better. Both won to overtake JEF United, who dropped from first to third place.
I watched the Gamba-F Marinos game on J Sky Sports on Monday evening, and was very impressed with the two goals of Tatsuhiko Kubo.
His first was a soaring header at the back post, his second a flying left-foot volley which almost burst the net.
Those two Kubo goals gave F Marinos 26 goals for the season in 14 games, well behind Jubilo (33) and JEF United (32). But Takeshi Okada's men have let in only 16, the third lowest in J1 behind FC Tokyo (10) and Grampus (14).
It is true that Marinos' strength is in defense, with a back four of Yoo Sang Chul (replacing the injured Hato), Nakazawa, the blond Matsuda and the Brazilian Dutra.
When Hato returns, Yoo is expected to push into central midfield, which will make the team even stronger for the second stage.
With Kubo and Marquinhos linking well up front, and with plenty of width in the team in Yukihiko Sato on the right and Oku, supported by Dutra, on the left, F Marinos could follow Jubilo last season and win both stages.
I cannot see F Marinos slipping up Saturday at home to Vissel Kobe, who must still be in a daze after losing 8-0 at home to Oita Trinita last Saturday.
But it has been an interesting race.