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The second stage winner needs to survive "sixpointers"

25 Sep 2003(Thu)

The first stage of the championship was tight this season, but the second stage could be even closer.

After seven of the 15 rounds, just three points separate the top eight teams, meaning there will be many "six pointers" in the remaining weeks of the season.

I don't know what you say in Japan, but in England a "six pointer" means a vital match between two teams challenging for the championship, for promotion, or even to avoid relegation.

The team that wins the game takes three points, and just as importantly deprives the rival team of three valuable points, hence the term "six pointer."

There is a definite six pointer coming up this Sunday, when Tokyo Verdy 1969 are at home to Nagoya Grampus Eight at Ajinomoto Stadium.

After Tuesday's holiday games, Grampus are at the top of the table with 13 points, ahead of Kashima Antlers on goal difference.

Verdy, Yokohama F Marinos, JEF United and Kashiwa Reysol all have 12 points, followed by Urawa Reds with 11 and Gamba Osaka with 10.

In the first stage, six teams could have won the title with two games to go, and three of them were still in the hunt on the last day, when Yokohama F Marinos clinched it.

The crowds were a bit disappointing Tuesday, though, except at Ajinomoto for FC Tokyo-Jubilo and at Komaba for Reds-JEF.

Maybe this is a sign that the teams are not playing particularly well, despite their lofty position, and the fans are not convinced.

Antlers, for example, have scored only eight goals in seven second-stage games, and this lack of firepower could cost them dear, as well as the injury to Koji Nakata.

With goals in short supply, Antlers need to keep a "clean sheet" (meaning, not conceding a goal) every game to take three points. Just one goal in the Antlers net puts the pressure on, and that's all Kyoto Purple Sanga needed at Kashima Stadium in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday.

None of the teams looks very convincing at the moment, and you get the feeling that the first one to start stringing together a few commanding performances could pull away from the pack.

I tipped Jubilo to win the second stage in August, and will stay with them even though they are down in 10th place. The more important statistic is that they are only four points off the pace with nine points.

This is nothing with 24 points still to play for, and with many "six pointers" to come.


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