The preparations for the 2013 season of the domestic leagues in Japan, China, and Korea, who are the driving forces of the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF), began almost simultaneously. Looking at the leagues’ kick-off in March, the clubs in each country have already started hard training.
Korea Republic’s K-League turns into a fully-fledged two-division system from this season. Named the “K League Classic”, the first division will begin its season on 2nd March involving 14 teams.
The league champions FC Seoul are arguably the most competent title contenders. In the heart of the squad led by Choi Yong-Soo, who used to play for J. League clubs, is Montenegrin forward Dejan Damjanovic. The 1.87m-tall striker won the league’s MVP award last year. Furthermore, he was included in the best eleven and won the golden boot, three years and two years in a row, respectively.
In the pre-season market, Seoul signed Sergio Escudero from J. League club Urawa Red Diamonds. Having already played in Seoul on loan last season, the striker aspires to have a more successful season after earning a permanent contract.
Suwon Samsung Bluewings are also highly regarded prior to the new season after finishing fourth last year. They have brought in DPR Korea international forward Jong Tae-Se. Having made his presence felt in Japan and Germany, the goal poacher has set his target as “15 league goals.” Brazilian forward Rodrigo Pimpao, another new signing, played for Cerezo Osaka and Omiya Ardija in the J. League in 2011.
Suwon Samsung’s coach Seo Jung-Won and Choi, his counterpart in Seoul, used to be international team-mates. Pohang Steelers coach Hwang Sun-Hong and Chunnam Dragons coach Ha Seok-Ju also played for the their international team from the 1990s to early 2000s. Ex-K-League and J. League players’ skills as managers will certainly attract much attention from fans and supporters.
The new campaign of the Chinese Super League (C League) involves 16 teams. Last season, the league boomed with several world-class stars arriving and saw growing crowds in two successive seasons, registering an average attendance of 18,740.
In the winter market, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka returned to Europe (both from Shanghai Shenhua). But even after the two big names left China, the level of the league is unlikely to fall significantly, with Guangzhou Evergrande FC leading the first division.
Under renowned Italian coach Marcello Lippi, the team boast quality players including Korea Republic international defender Kim Young-Gwon and Paraguay international forward Lucas Barrios. China international and club captain Zheng Zhi provides leadership as a stalwart of the squad. Last season’s top three clubs including Jiangsu Sainty FC (second) and Beijing Guoan FC (third) are expected to contend the C League title again in 2013. Former Japan international coach Takeshi Okada aims for further improvement at Hangzhou Greentown FC after finishing 11th in his first season.
Competitive season expected for J. League again in 2013
Compared to its counterparts in Korea and China, Japan’s J. League is a tightly fought league. The league is so competitive that three different teams won the title in the last three seasons.
The title race is likely to be affected by how the four AFC Champions League contenders will manage their campaign. Can Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Vegalta Sendai, Urawa Reds, and Kashiwa Reysol ride out the tight schedule early in the season? The answer to this question will surely cause changes to the balance of power. In addition, as part of the characteristics of the J. League seen in recent years, more than a few players have signed with European clubs during the summer registration window period. So, managing the risk of star players leaving the club during the season should also affect the ranking.