FC Gifu entertain high-flying Giravanz Kitakyushu on Sunday evening. For those of you in the dark about our visitors, here is a crash course on the Sunflower team.

Who are Giravanz Kitakyushu?

Based in the Kyushu city of Kitakyushu (people might be more familiar with the name of Kokura, the main train station), Giravanz are a relatively new team to the J.League, having ascended to the league in 2010 and changing their name from New Wave Kitakyushu to Giravanz.

Why are they doing so well this year?

Consistency is a big part of it. At the start of the 2013 season, they had 27 new players. That coach Hashiratani got them as high up as 16th place last year was nearly a miracle. This year they have had less of a turnover. They lost dependable goalkeeper Hiroyuki Takeda to Cerezo Osaka, but made the shrewd signing of striker Kazuki Hara from Kyoto Sanga. They have some exciting players in Koki Kotegawa and Tomoki Ikemoto, and the two of them buzz around the front line looking for gaps to exploit.

Are you surprised they’re up in 4th place?

Definitely. I thought they’d improve with the acquisition of Hara, but I didn’t expect them to be flying this high. But it is good to see “smaller” clubs doing well, as was the case last season with V-Varen Nagasaki & Tokushima Vortis, because it gives other clubs (like Gifu) hope.

Who’s in charge?

That would be Mr. Koichi Hashiratani, brother of Mito Hollyhock head coach Tetsuji. Koichi was my joint choice for manager of 2013 thanks to his great effort with a brand new squad. He took over after Yasutoshi Miura had departed, along with several key players, to Tokyo Verdy and he had the unenviable task of trying to rebuild the team. It took a while, but slowly results & performances began to turn their way and they ended the year in wonderful 16th place. He is mild mannered, pretty quietly spoken but has garnered a reputation as a players’ coach.

How do they play?

This is a little tricky as I’ve not watched a full game of theirs so far this year, but from what I have seen (and from what I remember of them last year) they, like FC Gifu, tend to go with a 4-4-2 set up with Hara & Ikemoto up top. The key to this game will be midfield supremacy, especially in the centre. The battle between Gifu veteran Masashi Miyazawa & Giravanz youngster Koki Kazama in the heart of the midfield should be interesting.

Who is the player to look out for?

I’m going with Tomoki Ikemoto. Hara leads the line well, but I really like Ikemoto as a player. He pops up all over the place, is decent with both feet and isn’t afraid to shoot when given the chance. Also, experienced defender Kazuya Maeda marshals his defence exceptionally well.

* addendum: My good friend @GifuRichy adds: “Don’t forget to mention that Ikemoto was also a superstar for FC Gifu who played a huge role in getting Gifu promoted to the JFL!”

Can I find out more about them?

Absolutely! A couple of Twitter accounts you might find useful are: