The fixtures for the first two rounds of the 2013 J2 season have been announced, and Gifu have been handed a very tough start.
On the opening day, March 3rd, they will host last season’s play-off competitors Yokohama FC. Interestingly (or not), this is a mirror image of the final game of last season, when Yokohama beat Gifu 3-2 at Mitsuzawa. Yokohama did the double over Gifu last year, running out easy 2-0 winners in the game at Nagaragawa in April. Gifu’s last win against Yokohama came in October 2011, when Yudai Nishikawa’s injury time goal capped an amazing 4-3 win (the game contained 5 goals in the last 15 minutes). Yokohama have made a few moves in the off season, notably bringing in Kawasaki Frontale pair Morishita & Kurotsu and they will almost certainly be in the top 6 shakedown again this season.
A week later, on March 10th, Gifu head west to the port city of Kobe to take on relegated Vissel Kobe. I have a feeling Home’s Stadium will be a very difficult hunting ground for J2 teams this season, and Gifu will be the first team to sample the atmosphere in 2013. Vissel were relegated on the final day of the J1 season after losing at home to champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima. That result, combined with Albirex Niigata’s thumping win over Consadole Sapporo confirmed that Vissel would join Kansai neighbours Gamba Osaka along with Consadole in J2. They have managed to keep a fair number of their players, although Yoshito Okubo has left for Kawasaki Frontale and defenders Takuya Nozawa & Masahiko Inoha have departed for Kashima and Jubilo respectively. That is not to say they haven’t brought anyone in – they have signed S-Pulse goalkeeper Kaito Yamamoto and Popo has returned after a stint at Urawa. This is still a team with a lot of good players, and they will rightly be regarded as strong favourites to finish in the top 2.
Make no mistake, this is a very tough start for Gifu.