The pride of Yokohama

Players of Yokohama F Marinos celebrate their victory over Urawa Reds in the J-League Championship final, December, 2004.

Three-time J.League champions Yokohama F Marinos have been a mainstay of Japanese football since the league was launched in 1993. profiles the club that honed the silky skills of midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura and safe hands of goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and which now has its sights set on becoming a dominant force on the Asian scene.

Birth of an institutionMarinos began life as Nissan Motor FC in 1972. Although football was still an amateur sport in Japan, the club established a youth academy that produced a steady stream of talented players and helped Nissan Motor become a force in Yokohama football.

After promotion to the top flight of the amateur league in 1979/80, the club picked up a handful of domestic trophies-including the league, league cup and Emperor's Cup treble in 1988/89 with former Brazil captain Oscar orchestrating the defence-under coach Shu Kamo. What is more, victories in the 1991/92 and 1992/93 Asian Cup Winners' Cup hinted that the club would be a serious contender for the title of the soon-to-be-unveiled J.League.

The club changed its name to Yokohama Marinos in 1993, and then adopted the F after merging with cross-town rivals Yokohama Flugels in 1999.

Making of a legendWith Argentinian goalgetter Ramon Diaz leading from the front, Marinos regularly finished in the top half of the table in the J.League's early years and won the title in 1995. However, it was only after current Japan coach Takeshi Okada took over in 2003 that the club genuinely began to live up to its huge potential. Central defender Yuji Nakazawa, midfielder Daisuke Oku and newly acquired striker Tatsuhiko Kubo formed the backbone of the side that won both stages of the championship that season. The addition of former Korea Republic forward Ahn Jung-Hwan in 2004 proved an instant success, with Marinos defending their J.League crown after defeating second-stage winners Urawa Red Diamonds on penalties after the title play-off ended 1-1 on aggregate.

Okada spoke openly about his Asian ambitions before the 2005 season, but his words fell flat as Marinos were bundled out in the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Marinos finished a disappointing ninth in the league that campaign, and Okada resigned midway through the 2006 season with the club languishing near the wrong end of the table.

The presentMarinos are currently going through something of a transitional phase, with the focus on the players emerging from their much-envied youth system rather than signing big names from elsewhere. Veteran performers such as Kubo and Oku have been released in recent seasons and since then much of the team's play has revolved around midfielder Koji Yamase, a Japan regular, and captain and former J.League MVP Nakazawa, who has turned down several lucrative offers to stay loyal to the club. Coach Kokichi Kimura took over midway through the 2008 season, after Marinos at one point had tumbled to 16th in the 18-team division, and turned the club around to finish ninth.

Meanwhile, Yokohama-born Nakamura has made no secret of his desire to return to Marinos after his lengthy spell in Europe, but hometown fans will have to wait a little longer after the attacking midfielder opted to sign for Spanish club Espanyol in June.

The stadiumMarinos have two home grounds: the Nissan Stadium, whose seating capacity of more than 72,000 is the highest of any stadium in Japan, and the Mitsuzawa Stadium, which holds about 15,000. The Nissan Stadium, also known as International Stadium Yokohama, hosted the Final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and several FIFA Club World Cup finals. Mitsuzawa Stadium is considerably smaller, but its homely atmosphere has earned it a place in many Marinos fans' hearts.

Marinos Town, a training facility in Yokohama complete with pitches and a clubhouse, was opened in 2007.

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