TOKYO (June 29): The long wait is almost over, and the J.League first division will be reopening for business on Saturday.
It feels like the start of the season, doesn't it, as teams have been in camp, playing warm-up games, and there's been lots of talk on the transfer front.
But, of course, the J1 season is already 12 matches old, and there are another 22 rounds to go.
So, even though Kashima Antlers have a nine-point cushion at the top, it's still far from over.
As a Newcastle United fan, I know from painful experience how teams can blow big leads when they are clear at the top well into the season!
So for fans of the chasing pack, don't give up on your team, as there will be many twists and turns ahead on the long road to the championship.
Marinos manager Takeshi Okada was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan, and he was asked if the crowds would drop with one team dominating J1.
"Don't you think Marinos can catch Kashima?" he replied, with a chuckle.
If there were two or three teams clear of the pack, Okada added, then maybe some fans of other teams might lose interest as the season wears on. But there's only one with a big lead, and several capable of catching them.
Indeed, it is going to be fascinating to see if Antlers can hang on. Much will depend on whether their captain, Mitsuo Ogasawara, stays or leaves.
The word is that Lazio would like to take him to Rome, and if he left there would be a massive gap to fill.
So who's capable of catching Kashima?
Well, Marinos for one, although I hear they are having problems signing a new striker to replace Adhemar and Ahn Jung Hwan.
Ailton, who plays in Germany, and Luizao have both been linked with the club, but no concrete news as yet.
Urawa Reds will get better and can still put in a challenge, and Gamba Osaka must have a chance, too.
They have some fine players in all areas of the pitch, especially going forward with Fernandinho, Araujo and Oguro. There is a strong backbone, too, with Miyamoto, Sidiclei and Endo, and lots of experience elsewhere, so Gamba must not be written off.
Jubilo Iwata could start to click, as they have enough good players.
So, when Saturday comes, the chase is on, and I expect Antlers to be hauled in, and the race to expand considerably over the next few weeks.
Before the next break, that is!