First-time J.League champions Nagoya Grampus are eyeing an historic double with the domestic season starting this weekend and their onslaught on the AFC Champions League already under way.
"Every year is a kind of challenge for every team but now we are (in the) situation to defend our title," said Nagoya's Serbian coach Dragan Stojkovic. "It will be very difficult but we believe that we can do that, so our target is to try again to be the champions," said Stojkovic, who scored 57 goals in 184 games as a Nagoya forward.
Nagoya got off to a winning start to the season when they defeated Kashima Antlers 3-1 on penalties after drawing 1-1 to win the season-opening Super Cup last weekend - a game between the league champions and the cup winners. But they crashed to a 2-0 defeat to Hangzhou Greentown of China in the opener of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday, while Kashima drew with Shanghai Shenhua of China 0-0 on Wednesday.
"Personally I'm very happy to participate in the Asian Champions League as a representative of the Japanese football. It's an important competition and my players will get another international experience," said Stojkovic. "The competition is very interesting and we will try our best to get the title, win it. We must be concentrating on that point."
Kashima failed to make it a fourth straight league title last season as they stuttered following the departure of Japan international defender Atsuto Uchida, finally finishing in fourth place. They managed to win a ticket to the Champions League by winning the Emperor's Cup. "We had a disappointing result in the league competition last season. I had been sure of winning the title. We could have won six more games out of our 12 draws," said Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswaldo Oliveira.
The J.League runners-up Gamba Osaka and third placers Cerezo Osaka, who lost their star midfielder Shinji Kagawa to Borussia Dortmund, are another two clubs who are chasing the two titles.
"We couldn't win any titles in 2010. We want to win them back at any rate. We couldn't do well at the beginning of last season, so we concentrate on starting well this time," said Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino. "We were beaten in the first game of the Champions League knock-out round in the past two years. I really want to reach the last eight and then the summit of Asia," added Nishino.
Gamba Osaka, the 2008 Asian champions and 2005 J.League winners, lost Brazilian strikers Magno Alves in 2007, Bare in 2008 and Leandro in 2009, all to oil-wealthy Middle Eastern clubs.
Cerezo Osaka's Brazilian coach Levir Culpi said: "We have two goals - one to win the AFC and the other to win the J.League. It will be difficult, but I want my players to fight always with these high targets."
Gamba and Cerezo Osaka, winners over Melbourne Victory 5-1 and Arema Indonesia 2-1 respectively in the Champions League, will face each other as the domestic season kicks off, while Nagoya will play Yokohama Marinos and Kashima meet Omiya Ardija.
The 2007 Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds have struggled since losing Brazilian-born Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Alessandro Santos to Nagoya, Makoto Hasebe to VfL Wolfsburg, and Hajime Hosogai to Bayer Leverkusen. Urawa's new Serbian coach Zeljko Petrovic appeared happy to be back to the club he played for ten years and is looking forward to playing against Serbian national team-mate Stojkovic.
"Urawa are a big club, probably number one in Japan. I want to get a proper result for the club. Stojkovic is the best player I've ever seen in Yugoslavia. But he had a difficulty when he played against me," said Petrovic. "I will play against him as a coach. It's not a competition between us but a competition between the Reds and Grampus. I want to beat Grampus," he added.