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Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004

Tough opener for Marinos

Defending league champion Yokohama F. Marinos will entertain Nabisco Cup holders Urawa Reds in the pick of opening-day matches on March 13 as the J. League released the fixture list for the first stage of the 2004 season on Friday.

Yokohama clinched a dramatic two-stage double on the last day of the 2003 campaign and will be looking to make a strong start against Urawa, which won its first title last year by thrashing Kashima Antlers in the Nabisco final.

Both teams have made key signings in the off season. Yokohama acquired South Korean World Cup star Ahn Jung Hwan and he will be facing former club teammate and Japan international Alessandro Santos, who joined Urawa from Shimizu S-Pulse, in the opener at International Stadium Yokohama.

Elsewhere, last season's second division champion Albirex Niigata plays its first match in the top flight away to FC Tokyo while Sanfrecce Hiroshima, back in the first division after a season in J-2, hosts Shimizu.

The first stage will run through June 26 with the second stage to kick off on Aug. 14. The second stage fixtures are scheduled to be released in mid May.

The 2004 campaign will be the last in the J. League to be played over two stages.

Nabisco Cup action starts on March 27 with the final to be played on Nov. 3 at Tokyo's National Stadium.

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