Kashima face Urawa in opener
Kashima Antlers have their sights set on winning the J.League title for a record fourth straight year and are also out to lift the AFC Champions League for the first time.
For a second year in a row, Kashima go up against fellow giants Urawa Red Diamonds on Saturday in the season-opener, with Urawa eager to make up for a disappointing campaign last time around.
"Nobody can be sure whether we can win the title or not. It's impossible," said Kashima's Brazilian coach Oswald Oliveira. "It's the same in any tournament where we are aiming to win a title - it's important to concentrate on winning the game ahead of us."
Urawa, the 2007 Asian champions, failed to reach the AFC Champions League after finishing sixth last season and are already facing fitness concerns with several players injured, including midfielder Naoki Yamada. "We will play against the best team in the J.League," Urawa's German coach Volker Finke said ahead of the Kashima clash.
"I hope we can play like we did in the last game of the last season. I don't think Kashima played better than we did at that time," said Finke, reflecting on Kashima's narrow 1-0 victory that earned them the league. "We hope to win a title - as many as possible. Actually, we have the Emperor's Cup, the J.League and the J.League Cup. Our ultimate goal is to qualify for the AFC Champions League," Finke added.
The other major tie of the opening weekend sees Gamba Osaka, who won the J.League in 2005 and AFC Champions League in 2008, face Nagoya Grampus, coached by Serbian Dragan Stojkovic. Nagoya beat Gamba twice last season, and Stojkovic said nothing less than the league title will do this time - and his players are under no illusions about that.
"I told them already what I'm thinking about this season," the Serb said. "This is the target we must achieve. We must fight for that. We must show solidarity. It's simple. We will try to get the championship, we worked very hard for that and we'll never give up."
Kawasaki Frontale and Sanfrecce Hiroshima, who both got off to losing starts in the AFC Champions League, take on Albirex Niigata and Shimizu S-Pulse respectively. Yokohama Marinos, whose ranks have been embellished by the return of Japan international Shunsuke Nakamura, play FC Tokyo.
Newcomers Shonan Bellmare, Vegalta Sendai and Cerezo Osaka will meet Montedio Yamagata, Jubilo Iwata and Omiya Ardija. The league will take a break during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, which runs for a month from 11 June.