Golden Week in Japan starts tomorrow (April 29) and it is an important time to assess the goals & targets for the team this year. FC Gifu’s schedule in the next 9 days is a pretty tough one, and as such it will be a good barometer to the team’s hopes in 2016.

April 29 – vs Renofa Yamaguchi (H)

Gifu welcome Renofa Yamaguchi to Nagaragawa Memorial Centre with the team from west Japan on an absolute high after thumping JEF United Chiba last week. Renofa, led by their dangerous forward line, are unbeaten in their last five games and seem to have carried on their cavalier style which saw them win J3 last year.

Key man – Yatsunori Shimaya

Scorer of 16 goals last year, the ex-Verspah Oita forward is a difficult man to keep track of on the pitch. He doesn’t really play the traditional strikers role that his goalscoring record throughour Japan’s leagues indicates he would. Instead, he tends to drift to the sides and tries to find space in oppositions’ defensive set-up. Given that Gifu’s athletic right back Tsukasa Masuyama is out through suspension, it will be up to Go Iwase and whoever replaces Masuyama to defend him. Easier said than done.

May 3 – vs Machida Zelvia (A)

Machida Zelvia – top of the league. Not a sentence many people though they’d be saying in 2016, but that is exactly what is occurring now. They’ve won six of their last seven and the only defeat they’ve suffered was on the opening day against pre-season title favourites Cerezo Osaka.

Key man – Ri Han Jae

With a team playing as well as Zelvia are, it is difficult to limit the key player search. Veteran forward Yuki Nakashima deserves a mention after scoring five goals so far, but I’ll go with Zelvia’s midfield linchpin, and ex-FC Gifu player, Ri Han Jae.

Ri isn’t the sexiest player you’ll ever see, but his importance to the way Zelvia play is undeniable. Someone who sits in the middle of the park and lets the other playmakers do their thing – in Machida’s case Takafumi Suzuki, Koji Suzuki and Tatsuya Yazawa. Never underestimate the importance of a no-frills holding/defensive midfielder.

May 8 vs Shimizu S-Pulse (H)

One game that FC Gifu supporters were looking forward to when the fixtures were announced, this Golden Week tilt will a popular place a week on Sunday. Last year, Gifu saw off S-Pulse’s rivals Jubilo Iwata at home, and this new look Gifu will hope to do the same to Shinji Kobayashi’s men. S-Pulse have taken their time to get used to life at this level, but so far have played better away from home than at Nihondaira. Maybe they feel less pressure away from home, who knows? But the facts are that Shimizu have, up to now, won all of their away games so far.

Key man – Genki Omae

I haven’t seen S-Pulse as much as I’d like to have done, but in the games I have seen it has been pretty hard to look past Genki Omae as their key man. A slippery forward with an accurate shot on him, he seems to play better when he is partnered/assisted by Aussie forward Mitchell Duke. Duke, and the returning Chong Tese take a lot of defensive heat off Omae, and he is very hard to defend one-on-one. He will present a huge challenge to Gifu’s relatively young centre back Ryutaro Karube. It is in a game such as this where a defensive midfielder is a must in order to stop Omae getting service. If he does, it will be bad for Gifu.