The J-League first-division season will kick off Friday with a clash between title aspirants at a brand-new stadium.

German manager Michael Skibbe's Sanfrecce Hiroshima will host the opening match at the newly unveiled Edion Peace Wing Hiroshima against an Urawa Reds side starting life under Norwegian mentor Per-Mathias Hogmo.

While defending champions Vissel Kobe may start as early title favorites, Hiroshima and Urawa are tipped to be among the contenders in the expanded 20-team top flight after finishing third and fourth, respectively, last season.

Yuya Osako plays for Vissel Kobe during a J-League first-division football match against Nagoya Grampus at Kobe's Noevir Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023. (Kyodo)

Sanfrecce have stability and a clear identity after back-to-back top-three finishes with Skibbe, while former Norway national manager Hogmo may need time to instill his philosophy among a talented Reds squad bolstered by the addition of proven goal-scorer Thiago Santana.

Led by league MVP Yuya Osako, Vissel lifted the trophy for the first time last year, breaking the six-year stranglehold on the J1 title of Yokohama F Marinos and Kawasaki Frontale.

The star-studded western Japan club strengthened their midfield with the arrival of former international Yosuke Ideguchi, who joins a host of players with Samurai Blue caps in Takayuki Yoshida's squad.

After running a close second in last year's race, Marinos will start the season under new manager Harry Kewell, maintaining the recent tradition of an Australian at the helm at Nissan Stadium.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima manager Michael Skibbe communicates with his team during a J-League first-division football match against Shonan Bellmare at Lemon Gas Stadium in Hiratsuka, Japan, on Aug. 5, 2023. (Kyodo)

The former Socceroos star has had limited managerial success to date, but he will command a potent attack including Brazilians Anderson Lopes and Elber as he tries to steer Marinos to their first title since winning in 2022 under Kevin Muscat.

Frontale will aim to return to the summit after a disappointing eighth-place finish in 2023. Toru Oniki's men, who had won four of the previous six J1 titles, appear to have another attacking force on their hands in Brazilian newcomer Erison as they remain committed to their high-risk, high-reward pressing game.

This season will see Tokyo derbies between three sides from the capital as promoted Tokyo Verdy and Machida Zelvia join FC Tokyo in the first division. Verdy, one of the league's foundation clubs, are back in the top flight for the first time since 2008, while Zelvia, from western Tokyo, will look to make waves in their J1 debut.

Thiago Santana (9), pictured playing for Shimizu S-Pulse during a J1 promotion playoff on Dec. 2, 2023, has joined Urawa Reds for the 2024 J-League season. (Kyodo)

A number of burgeoning talents who are in line to feature in Japan's 2024 Olympic campaign will be among the players to watch this season.

After bagging 14 goals last term and earning a place in the Samurai Blue Asian Cup squad, Kashiwa Reysol striker Mao Hosoya could be in golden boot contention. Gamba Osaka defender Riku Handa and Kyoto Sanga midfielder Sota Kawasaki are also tipped to continue their rise.

Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers, winners of a record eight J-League titles, will meet in Friday's other match at Toyota Stadium, with the remainder of the J1 kicking off their season across the country on Saturday and Sunday.

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