Vissel Kobe in pursuit of its first-ever J-League championship

Yuya Osako has scored 20 goals to lead the Vissel Kobe attack. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images)
Yuya Osako has scored 20 goals to lead the Vissel Kobe attack. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images) /
Vissel Kobe title chase
Yoshunori Muto celebrates after a Vissel Kobe goal against Yokohama F Marinos. (Photo by Masashi Hara/Getty Images) /

Vissel Kobe chasing maiden title in Japan Football League

With just five matchdays remaining before the winner of the 2023 J-League season is crowned, Vissel Kobe are on the brink of a historic achievement. The club affectionately known as Ushi (cows) leads the way by 4 points and have won three of their last four, coming into the final stretch in outstanding form.

Having only ever finished as high as 3rd since making their J-League debut back in 1997, Vissel Kobe will have the opportunity to push their lead this weekend when they host 4th-placed Kashima Antlers.

Largely known outside Japan as the destination for Andres Iniesta when he left Barcelona back in 2018, Vissel’s achievements this year have been on the back of homegrown talent, despite signing Spanish star Juan Mata and Hungarian international Bálint Vécsei recently.

If Vissel Kobe were to be crowned as champions, it would complete a run of success over the past four years that started in 2019 with the lifting of the Emperor’s Cup trophy. In 2020, Kobe won the Japanese Super Cup and made the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League last year, eventually defeated by Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

The success in 2023 is based on a solid defensive structure with Kobe having conceded 25 goals in 29 games, but their ability to transform defence into attack has made them a dangerous scoring team with 2nd-placed Yokohama FM the only team to score more goals than Vissel’s 51 this season.

Veteran striker Yuya Osako who spent much of his career in Germany with FC Köln and Werder Bremen is currently leading the league with 20 goals, with former Newcastle man Yoshinori Muto providing plenty of assists from the wing.

Defensively the Ushi are led by goalkeeper Daiya Maekawa who’s spent his entire career with Vissel and defensive midfielder and captain Hotaru Yamaguchi.

Japanese football comes into focus with wider football community

For many years Japanese football was largely ignored by the international community, but recently there has been a spike in interest, thanks largely to the success of the Japanese national team and the players who have moved abroad and captured the attention of football audiences all around the globe.

The national team of Japan is currently ranked inside the top-20 of FIFA’s world rankings. After peaking at  No. 9 back in 1998, they plummeted to No. 41 by 2018, but have since been climbing steadily in the rankings, helped by stunning perennial powerhouse Germany during last year’s World Cup and further boosted by routing the Germans 4-1 in Wolfsburg just last month.

Star forward Kyogo Furuhashi who left Vissel for Scottish side Celtic has been an international sensation, as has Kaoru Mitoma at Brighton in the Premier League, Takefusa Kubo with Real Sociedad in La Liga and Ko Itakura with Borussia Mönchengladbach in Germany.

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The level of talent coming out of Japan is at an all-time high in terms of numbers and consistency, and will only continue to rise in the coming years with more investment and better infrastructure. In an effort to spot that talent, more eyes are on Japan and the J-League than ever before.