J League Cup: Why can J2 and J3 clubs participate in the Soccer Levain Cup? Tournament format and rules

J League

The J League mainly consists of regular league matches, but there are also League Cup matches. It’s called the Levain Cup. However, I am writing this article for those who are unfamiliar with the format, rules, and even history of this cup match.


What is the Levain Cup?

The Levain Cup is also known as the J.League Cup, and is a cup competition in which professional clubs belonging to the J.League compete for the championship. This cup match is held separately from the regular league matches, and has a long tradition since 1992. The winning team will be awarded the J.League Cup and the Levain Cup, and will also earn the right to participate in the J.League Cup/Copa Sudamericana championship match to be held the following summer.

Tournament format

The 20 teams will play a “group league” in 5 groups of 4, and the winning teams will play a tournament to determine the winner. From 2024, J2 and J3 teams will also participate. Starting in 2024, the tournament will start from the first round, unlike the previous format. The following explanation is an overview up to fiscal year 2023.

group stage

The 20 teams, 18 from J1 and 2 from J2 (teams demoted from J1 the previous year), will be divided into 5 groups of 4 teams, and will aim to advance to the group through a round robin in the second round. A total of 8 teams, the top 3 of the 2nd place teams in each group, will advance to the next stage.

prime stage

The prime stage is a tournament match and corresponds to the quarterfinals and semifinals. The match is played for 90 minutes, and if a winner cannot be determined, the game is a draw. The team with the most wins in two games will be the winner and advance to the finals.

Final game

The final match will be a one-shot match. The match will be played for 90 minutes, with 30 minutes of overtime if the winner is still undecided, and a penalty shootout if the result is still not decided. The final will be featured on the news and on social media, and some players will be selected to represent Japan. The event is held at the height of the season, so it’s very exciting.

Why do J2 and J3 teams participate in the YBC Levain Cup?

The YBC Levain Cup is a tournament that has a lower priority compared to the J League matches and the Emperor’s Cup. Also, since J1 League teams basically compete for the championship, there is a downside that when holding a group stage, the group stage cannot be made up of 4 groups x 4 teams. Therefore, the reality is that they are asked to participate in lower leagues such as J2.

Will it be covered in the media? Are there any special features from foreign media?

Unfortunately, the Levain Cup is not a major tournament like the World Cup, so it is rare for the media to write columns or features on it. It may be broadcast on social media as breaking sports news, but it doesn’t get that much attention. If there are no national team players, famous coaches, or Olympic athletes, games in qualifying leagues are rarely covered. There are many fans who are satisfied with watching digest videos on YouTube etc. It also loses out on content such as baseball, golf, and martial arts.

What is the J League Cup/Copa Sudamericana championship match?

The J.League Cup/Copa Sudamericana championship match is a one-shot match between the J.League’s Levain Cup champion and the Copa Sudamericana champion sponsored by the South American Football Federation. Held from July to August, the winning team will receive a prize of 30 million yen, and the runner-up team will receive a prize of 10 million yen. By the way, this tournament has been postponed from 2020 to 2023.

History of the Levain Cup

When you think of the Levain Cup, you may have the impression that it is, after all, a cup match. However, it has quite a long history.


The J.League Cup match was created one year before the J.League was established in 1993. At that time, it was sponsored by the Japan Professional Soccer League and was called the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. This is because the sponsor was Yamazaki Biscuit Company. The final match was always held at the National Stadium, and this continued until 2013. In 2010, the total number of attendees exceeded 10 million, and despite its minor status as a League Cup, it has become well known as a tournament that can expect a decent number of spectators.

Be aware of ACL

Gradually, the tournament has been managed with ACL in mind, and among the participating teams, the teams that participate in the ACL main tournament group stage will play in the group stage, and the teams that made it through the group stage will be added to the ACL main tournament group stage. The format has been changed to include teams that will participate in the final tournament. Perhaps as a result of this, teams such as Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka won the ACL from 2007 to 2010.


2016 marked a major turning point as the name changed to the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The main reason for this is that Yamazaki Nabisco has terminated the license agreement for the Nabisco brand. This is also why the name became “Levain Cup”. Levain means fermented seed in French.


Starting in 2024, the league format will change. Up until now, teams that were relegated from J1 from the previous year competed in J1, but now J2 and J3 will also participate. Up until now, there was a group stage, but it has been abolished and all matches will be played in a knockout tournament.

Levain Cup awards

As part of the awards, the following prizes will be awarded to the appropriate participants in this cup match.

Best player award

Basically, the player from the winning team who had the most impressive performance in the final match will be selected, who will be announced after the final match and will be awarded a commemorative trophy and a prize of 1 million yen.

new hero award

This award was established in 1996, and the player who performed the most in the matches leading up to the semi-finals is selected as the player under the age of 21. A prize of 500,000 yen and a crystal ornament will be presented to the winners.

How to watch Levain Cup

The Levain Cup is often broadcast by broadcasting stations that do not have the rights to broadcast the J.League. The company that owns the rights to soccer broadcasts changes every year, so be sure to check back frequently. The latest information is posted in the article below, so please use it as a reference only.

ChannelPlanSoccer ContentsURL
DAZN3750national team
major europe leagues
J league
Hulu¥1026french league
dutch league
WOWOW2530UEFA Champions League
UEFA Europa League
ABEMA TV¥960national team
World Cup
Premier League
scottish league
スカパー¥429 + ¥2480national team
emperor’s cup soccer
J SPORTS1100fifa world youthJ SPORTS


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