Gamba Osaka will start the first, and hopefully only ever, J2 campaign with another Kansai derby at Banpaku. This year, it is the turn of Kyoto Sanga to match the short trip to the most successful team in Kansai, having seen Cerezo and Kobe do the same on the opening days of the last few seasons. Kick-off time will be at 16:00 JST tomorrow.
Both teams will be looking for all three points to get their seasons off to a flying start and the onus is on Gamba, being the home team, to take the game to Kyoto and show them that being relegated last season was just a mistake. Kyoto has, on the other hand, been stuck in J2 for the last two years, so they are hoping that it is third time lucky. They were obliterated 4-0 in their play-off semi-final against Oita Trinita when all they needed was a draw. We shall see whether they have shrugged-off their disappointment and humiliation (which cannot exceed ours) or not.
Given that both teams have had great pre-seasons and are both favourites to challenge for promotion, the game tomorrow will be interesting and intriguing. Historically speaking, there have been 20 league matches since the start of the J.League between the two sides, with Gamba winning 11 and losing 8. The only ever draw was the last meeting between the two sides at Banpaku the last time these two sides met, which was in J1, of course. That draw had ended a five match winning streak at home again Kyoto for Gamba, so we hope that the team can get back to winning ways. At Banpaku, Gamba have scored 22 and conceded 11 against Kyoto, with 6 wins, a draw and 3 defeats in that time.
Focussing on Kyoto, their strong point is hard to define given that the season is new. What we can say for sure is that they have had a few years in this division so they can use the experience that they have accumulated over those years to push them back into J1. This could also drag them down as previously mentioned. Yet you only have to look at their results from last year to see that they sometimes struggled against the “weaker” opposition and were unable to convert defeats into draws (just like Gamba!).
Injuries are sparse from pre-season, with just three new faces on that list. Of course, Akihiro Sato will be out until June through his cruciate ligament injury sustained at Kawasaki Frontale in October 2012. Right-back is the biggest problem with both Oh Jae-Suk and Akira Kaji reported to be injured. Assuming that this is the case, then Daiki Niwa has played there during pre-season or Takuya Takei can slide in there as he has experiences of it from last season. Finally, Futagawa has been reported as injured with no real details, like the other “injuries”, along with Akihiro Ienaga, so we will just have to wait and see. There is plenty of cover for midfield places so I cannot see any problems there.
Given that these players are doubts, I have not included them in my predicted team. This is just a bit of fun for me, but do please tell me your expected team. This one is the hardest to do as we do not know Hasegawa’s style yet.
On another note, Kenta Hasegawa has set the team a target of 90 points, which is the average (2.14 points per game) that teams have needed in the past in order to become champions. It will be his first chance to impress the fans but to also get the ball rolling, given that the first eight fixtures look the hardest on paper. A win here is imperative and with the team we have, I cannot see anything less than that, which is no disrespect to Kyoto.
My player to watch for the match is Yasuhito Endo. A former employee at Sanga, he will take the armband for the first time tomorrow and all eyes will be on him to take the team by the scruff of the neck and lead us to first place and back to J1. If he plays behind Leandro or in the volonte position, it is imperative that he controls the game with his attractive, mesmerising style. Good luck Yatto-san, we know you can do it!
The final result prediction from me will be a 2-1 Gamba Osaka win. The game will be a difficult one, made difficult by the opposition, but I cannot see us losing this game. Interestingly, Gamba are unbeaten at home since a last-minute 2-1 defeat to Yokohama F.Marinos on the 14th July. It might sound great, but we have only won two from seven, drawing five. If we improve that, and get a clean sheet for the first time at home since the 26th November 2011 against Vegalta Sendai in a 1-0 win, there will be no problems. Hopefully. Simply, improve!