As we move into the final two group games in the Asian Champions League (ACL), the Japanese clubs find themselves in various states of optimism. Here’s what the J.League representatives will be facing this week.
FC Tokyo v Jeonbuk Hyundai (Wednesday KO 7:30pm Japan time)
Tokyo find themselves top of the group after an excellent away win last time out at Jiangsu Suning, but they can’t be complacent. Jeonbuk come to the capital just one point behind knowing that a win will put them in pole position to win the group. In a group that is still wide open, bottom placed Binh Duong are only three points off Tokyo, there could be serious ramifications for a loser of tonight’s game.
Masato Morishige misses this crunch game through suspension
Shandong Luneng v Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Wednesday, KO 7:30 Japan time)
Reigning J.League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s ACL campaign is on life support and any life will be extinguished with a defeat in China. Moriyasu’s men were much improved in their win against Buriram and have had an extended rest after playing their last J.League game on Friday night – a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata. This group seems to have come down to a straight shoot out between these two teams for second place as the goal-laden FC Seoul team has blown this group away and will likely cement first place on Wednesday. Shandong won in the reciprocal fixture at the Big Arch, but Hiroshima will do as well to play as badly as they did on that night. A draw isn’t the be-all-and-end-all, but with a trip to Seoul on the cards after this, Sanfrecce know this is their big chance.
Mikic will look to continue his & Sanfrecce’s run in the ACL with a win at Shandong
Gamba Osaka v Suwon Bluewings (Tuesday KO 7pm Japan time)
Even if Gamba win this one, they are reliant on Melboune Victory not beating Shanghai SIPG. As I write in the K.League United preview piece, it is difficult to tip Gamba to win because they are playing so poorly, especially at home. Defeats against Yokohama F.Marinos & Kashiwa Reysol have made Gamba look leaden-footed at times and without the dynamic presence of Yosuke Ideguchi in midfield, I’m not confident of them getting the win they need.
Gamba coach Kenta Hasegawa and forward Takashi Usami face the media
Sydney FC v Urawa Reds (Wednesday, KO 7pm Japan time)
If you’d have said that this game would be a battle between the top two teams in the group, and a game that potentially knocks continental heavyweights Guangzhou Evergrande out, people would have given you a funny look. But that is exactly the situation Group H finds itself in. Sydney will guarantee top spot with a win; an Urawa win would knock Evergrande out and put Reds in great position of only needing to draw their final group game at home to Pohang Steelers – assuming Pohang beat Guangzhou tonight. However, if Urawa lose and Pohang win, Mihailo Petrovic’s men would need to beat the Steelmen in Saitama to progress. Phew. I’m mentally tired just thinking about it.
Yuki Muto will look to be on the scoresheet in Sydney