After a long season, we get to end it on my birthday with the title sealed as Gamba head up to Gunma to take on 20th place ThespaKusatsu Gunma at the Shoda Shoyu Stadium with a local kick-off time of 12:30. As both teams have their positions for the 2013 season locked in place, they should be looking to express themselves and end their respective seasons on a high note, knowing perfectly well that this might be the last time they meet for a long time.
Thespa came from 2 goals down last time out against Vissel Kobe to draw 2-2 at home. Ogawa and Popo gave the visitors the lead but Sakai drew one back before half time and top-man Hirashige levelled the scores just past the hour mark to dent the spirits of an already deflated Vissel camp.
Gamba endured a horrible 3-2 win that won us the title. Usami bagged an early goal which was swiftly wiped away by Bandai’s header from a corner. But Fujiharu forced an own goal immediately to put us 2-1 up at half time, where Usami netted again to seemingly end the tie, but a never-say-die attitude by Montedio got another goal for Bandai but they did not have quite enough to take a point or all 3 they needed which ended their play-off hopes.
The meeting earlier this season came in round 15 as we strolled to a 5-1 home win. Paulinho bagged after 2 minutes to get his first goal of the season but Hirashige levelled after an uncharacteristic mistake by Takaharu Nishino. Kurata and Leandro got us back to 3-1 by half time and Paulinho and Kurata got their braces within 2 minutes of each other just after the hour mark.
Thespa have some decent form at home in their last 9 games given their league position; they have won 4 (Matsumoto, Kumamoto, Ehime and Okayama), drew 2 (Toyama and Kobe) and lost 3 (Gifu, Tochigi and Kyoto). Those three defeat all came one after the other and they have failed to keep a clean sheet at home in 5 games. Nevertheless, Gunma is by no means an easy place to visit and with ace striker Hirashige, they always have half a chance.
The hosts have a whole bunch of players who are supposed to be out of this match. Goalkeeper Daiki Tomii, defenders Shingo Arizono and Ryosuke Tada, midfielders Ryota Nagata and Hwang Song-Su, as well as striker Eder are all considered out of this game. Their predicted starting eleven is to the side.
Gamba will have to make one change, replacing Takaharu Nishino with Keisuke Iwashita due to suspension. Iwashita will make his return after 4 months out with an ankle injury picked up against Tokyo Verdy. Konno and Endo are available but will sit this one out due to small injuries and needing the rest. I hope Kenya Okazaki loses his spot to Takuya Takei in midfield but I do not see that happening. Kotaro Omori picked up a shoulder injury last weekend so is out for 3 weeks. My predicted side is to the side.
So even though this game has no bearing on the final places of both teams, we will want to end in style and net 2 more goals to get 100 for the season. However, my man to watch is Keisuke Iwashita. He might be no Takaharu Nishino but with good J1 experience, you would be hoping that he and Niwa can sort out their dodgy partnership that has garnered just 1 clean sheet this season. He was a mess in the game he got injured against Verdy and I am not his biggest fan at all. If his passion and desire equated to talent, he would be one of the best but he needs to make a statement given that recruitment is required over the winter. I hope he is not too rusty on Sunday.
It will not be easy against a decent Gunma side but you would always fancy us to go there and take them apart. Our last 2 results away from home have been impressive and that should hopefully continue. We need to be wary of Hirashige and the decent-looking Daniel Lovinho. But with Usami, Fujiharu and Sato in great form, you would expect us to win this game if the hosts give us any chance to do so. A good win would be a welcome birthday present indeed, Gamba.
Photo taken from img.njpw.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.