Programme Notes – April 21st

After a week’s hiatus (work……always work) there is a lot to catch up on. But surprisingly, not in the goals column.

 

Nil-nils reign supreme

In the last two games, Gifu have been involved in two scoreless draws. The fact that they came against two of the better attacking units in the league Tokyo Verdy (A) and Tokushima Vortis (H) only adds to the intrigue.

Against Verdy, Gifu were undoubtedly the better team and two golden chances to win it, but neither Kota Miyamoto nor Kensei Nakashima could convert their chances. A draw looks a good result but I know they were very disappointed not to come back from the capital with all three points.

Tokushima was a very different affair. Despite the scoreline, it was a very entertaining game with chances for both sides. Sisinio told me after the game that he thought Vortis just deserved to win because they created a few more chances but I disagreed with him – because we are both biased (more from Sisi later).

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In deference to Vortis’ ex-Gifu midfielder, Vortis did play well and if they’d had Daiki Watari (who somewhat disappointingly warming the bench at Sanfrecce Hiroshima) then they would have won. On the flip side, Gifu had three golden chances and if two of them hadn’t fallen to right back Masanori Abe we could well be talking about a Gifu win. But in the end it was probably an fair result.

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Sisi’s return

I had a chance to speak with the ex-Gifu midfielder upon his return to the stadium where he was adored:

  • Me: It must be a bit weird, no?
  • Sisi: Haha! Yes! When I came in I automatically went to the home locker room. And the drive on the bus (to the stadium) brought back memories.
  • Me: How do you like Tokushima?
  • Sisi: It’s a nice place. Small – similar size to Gifu. Sometimes it is a little inconvenient because trips can take a long time because we have to go to Kobe first. But the scenery is nice, there are some nice beaches. It’s good.
  • Me: How’s your physical condition. Obviously you are a bit rested this week….(after his red card against Verdy the previous week)
  • Sisi: Yeah, I feel good. Last year, it took me one hour to get to training everyday (nb: he lived in Nagoya whilst he played at Gifu) but now it is much shorter and I can get a lot more rest and don’t have to worry about too much traveling. No injuries so far. So far, so good!
  • Me: Looking forward to this game?
  • Sisi: Hmmm. Looking forward? That’s difficult to say. Obviously I had a very good time here last year and in a way it will be difficult to play against Gifu. I still have many friends here. But I’m professional and my team is Tokushima. I always Gifu to do well….just not today!
  • Me: Ha! I’ll accept that answer. Still studying Japanese?
  • Sisi: Yes, very much. Almost everyday. I go to training, have lunch at the clubhouse, relax a little bit and then usually go home and study. I’m getting better!

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At the end of the game, he went to the Gifu supporters and bowed/saluted them. Most of the curva behind the goal had stayed for that particular event and it was very well appreciated. Yuki Omoto was there too – although he was treated slightly differently during the game that Sisi was…..

 

Yuki ganbare~~!!

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I’ll say a few things about this:

  1. Booing ex-players is nothing new. I’ve done it before (not in Japan) and it is part & parcel of the game in many countries.
  2. Why was Omoto booed, and Sisinio wasn’t? I don’t know. They were both outstanding for Gifu last year. Maybe it was accepted that Sisinio would move on from Gifu because he was too good to play at the bottom of J2 again. Maybe we expected Yuki to stay and continue his development with Takeshi Oki. That is just guesswork.
  3. Omoto was THE standout player last week. As soon as he touched the ball, we were all reminded of why we loved him on our team last year. The pace, the directness, the energy – I’m very jealous of Tokushima for having him. He’s missed most of the season through injury – indeed Sunday was his first full game for Vortis – but nce he gets up to full speed I think he’ll establish himself as one of the best players in J2 and if Vortis don’t go up this year, Omoto will almost certainly be in J1 2019 anyway.
  4. I hope Vortis can help Yuki reach his potential. Most Gifu supporters wish him well. The fact that some booed him during the game on Sunday? Who cares. Football is a game of opinions & choices.
  5. I’m not going to sway from my view that I formed last year: Omoto is a national team player in waiting. With good coaching and good development he’s borderline unplayable at times. He’d have no problems in J1 – and the attacking full back/wing back is the new in vogue player. Omoto is the future of the right sided player.

A trip to the top

Gifu are on the rod this weekend when they visit the western Japanese city of Okayama for a date with table topping Fagiano Okayama. In one of the very many weird quirks of the J.League, Gifu actually have a good record at Fagiano having won five of the nine meetings there, and only losing twice.

Okayama play a three back system, with the impressive Jun Ichimori in goal. The one player to watch is midfielder Kota Ueda. He has been very impressive in Okayama’s fast start, and beware if he is given a free-kick within 25 yards of goal. He has already scored two free-kicks this year and his delivery or shooting prowess is always a menace.

In a way, I’m more confident about getting a result from this game than I was about getting a positive result at home against Vortis. Okayama are highly organized, but in Kyogo Furuhashi and Junichi Paulo Tanaka we have wildcard players that can disrupt an organized defence.

 

300 not out

Big salutes going out to Hiroaki Namba, who made his 300th appearance in the J.League when he came on as a sub in the Vortis game.  There’ll be more on this when I have the time to write a fully deserved article on him. But in the meantime – congrats Nan-chan!

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Trundling towards the finish

Haven’t done a blog post in a while. I think it is partly to do with my Bronchitis (seriously…the discrepancy in temperatures these days are horrible) but I think it is mostly to do wit the fact the Gifu don’t really have anything tangible to play for.

Gifu are in the rare situation of not being in a relegation fight and I think that has affected the mood / atmosphere around the club. It has been clear for a long time now that we weren’t in relegation danger, and we weren’t getting near the play-offs and so this is what the middle-ground feels like.

In recent weeks, since the slaying by Nagoya Grampus, Gifu have had a really difficult slate of games against top sides in the division:

  • Oita Trinita (A) – 3-3
  • Tokushima (H) – 0-2
  • Tokyo Verdy (H) – 1-2
  • Matsumoto (A) – 1-2

Out of these games, the Tokushima game was the only one in which we were properly turned over. Vortis are a good side, and it is surprising to me that they aren’t comfortably in the top six. They are fast, strong & direct when needed, but also have the guile & skill of Taro Sugimoto & Daiki Watari to call upon.

Against Oita, we conceded an injury time equalizer (after coming back from 0-2 down), against Verdy it was in the balance, and in my opinion Gifu were much better than Matsumoto last week. However, looking at the big picture, we have lost five of the last six games which isn’t a good look. As usual, the lack of decisiveness in the front third has been what has cost Gifu games – something that needs to be sorted in the winter, a fact that wasn’t lost on one of our favourite ex-players, Stipe Plazibat:

I’m not really sure what else to say about the current state of FC Gifu. People might disagree with me here, but to be safe with a relatively long time to go in the season is pretty good. We went into this season not really knowing what to expect from this coach & this group of players – but the most important thing was to stay in the division. Mission accomplished. Could we have achieved more? Sure. And we probably should be in mid-table. But I think that this season is a starting point, and I think it is clear where the squad improvements need to be, so in that aspect I think manager Takeshi Oki will – despite being pissed off at being in 17th – be happy that there is some clarity regarding what he needs to do.

My take on that will come post season, but for now I’ll take a brief look at some of the more pressing issues facing the club at this point.

1. Yoshinari Takagi’s retirement

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Nari-san, in rainier times.

Our back up goalkeeper this year has announced his retirement from the game. He has had a fine career with spells at Tokyo Verdy, Nagoya Grampus & Gifu, but it is no surprise that he is calling it a day. It wouldn’t surprise me if he is selected for Gifu’s final home game of the year against Shonan Bellmare on November 11, just to give him a proper send off. The word is (from Nagoya people) that he will probably take up a position at Grampus upon retirement, but I woudn’t put the possibility of becoming a coach out of the question. More & more this year he has been acting like a coach on the sidelines, and someone with his experience should be able to give back to the game.

 

2. Player movement

This will come up after the season as well, but it is fair to wonder which players might not be here next year. I think inevitably three names will crop up: Sisinio, Yuki Omoto and Kyogo Furuhashi.

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It’s not really a secret that some J1 clubs are interested in what the rookie duo of Omoto & Furuhashi have been producing this year. Representatives from FC Tokyo, Kashiwa Reysol and others have been present in the second half of the season to check on Gifu, and it is highly likely that they are the ones under the microscope. It is my understanding that the two of them actually signed two year contracts coming out of university, meaning they both have a year remaining (although my understanding could be wrong). It is interesting, perhaps, that JSP, Yuki Omoto’s agency, has released a highlights video of their client. If I was being suspicious I’d say it is an attempt to drum up interest (both home & abroad) for their client. If I was being naive I’d say it was an attempt to make people aware of Yuki so that they come to watch him next season. Whatever….it is a situation to keep an eye on.

 

Sisinio’s situation is a little harder to predict. He’s older, at 31, and so probably doesn’t have a lot of time left in order to make the jump to J1 – which he is undoubtedly good enough to do. The question is is whether he is willing to be patient with Gifu, and with a coach whom he admits he loves working for, and try and reach J1 with Gifu. If he decides not to, then few would blame him. He’s been outstanding this season.

 

Victor & Yoshihiro Shoji’s names should come up – they’ve both had excellent seasons. But I think (and I hope!!) they stay. Victor still has time remaining on his contract and I don’t think he is in a rush to leave. I know he likes Gifu, and only just recently got married. Shoji is integral to manager Oki’s vision of football, so I don’t think he’ll be going anywhere (Still, this is the J.League so you’re never really sure about transfers or contract status’ and things like that).

I’d really like all of the on-loan players to stay. Takayuki Fukumura has been very good and I think next year Hideyuki Nozawa & Yushi Nagashima would turn into excellent players in Gifu’s system. Hopefully Oki can persuade them.

 

3. The run-in

But let’s not forget there still three games for Gifu to navigate before the end of the year, starting with a trip north to face Zweigen Kanazawa. Kanazawa are safe themselves after flirting with relegation for the bulk of the season, aided by a highly impressive 3-1 home win against Nagoya Grampus in September. The so called “Hakusan derby” (derby of the white mountains) is the latest attempt to drum up a rivalry for Zweigen. Kanazawa finds it difficult to have genuine rivals due to their geography – up in the Hokuriku area of Japan, their nearest team is actually Kataller Toyama but seeing as they are in J3, that isn’t going to be a viable derby in the near future.

Kanazawa are a humdrum side, but one that has done well to maintain its J2 status. Striker Koichi Sato – scorer of 14 this season and very well known to Gifu supporters after his spell here in the early 2010’s – will look to extend Zweigen’s excellent recent form of just one defeat in the last six (and that defeat was against champions Shonan Bellmare). Interestingly, Kanazawa don’t rely on foreign players – they only have one currently on their books – Korean defender Byeon Jun Byum – and the vast majority of their minutes have been played by Japanese players. I do like their attacking midfielder Keiya Nakami, he’s been excellent in forward positions and around the box leading to an excellent tally of 11 goals this year. The two teams have scored 95 goals between them this year while conceding 112 – so it probably won’t end up a scoreless draw.

 

Ah….it feels good to get some thoughts down on (virtual) paper again. Hopefully Gifu can sign off the season with a good run of form.

The Slow Revolution

“Gifu domination soccer”

During the pre-match intro movie, this is what is promised. There are two strands to this: possession & results. The possession domination is incontestable – Gifu play the most passes on a per game basis and have the most possession of any team in the league. But Gifu currently sit 18th in the league with just one win in the last twelve. Why the dichotomy?

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When it comes together, Gifu are beautiful to watch. The way Omoto & Furuhashi stretch the flanks; the way Sisinio always has time to pick his pass; the way Shoji controls the tempo of the play. Gifu have scored more goals than league leaders Shonan Bellmare, but with number of chances Gifu create, they should score more. More of a killer instinct would have turned more of Gifu’s draws into wins and would be a just reward for their aesthetically pleasing style of play.

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Lack of clinicalness in front of goal isn’t the only thing that is keeping them down in 18th though. A propensity to be out muscled – as witnessed in the recent home defeat against Machida Zelvia and by the goals given up in the win against Kyoto. After watching that win, I was convinced that Gifu are a far better team than Kyoto – honestly the two teams weren’t even comparable. Gifu were fast, vibrant & stylish while Kyoto looked like a relic of a side; one that played long ball football to two old school target men. To be honest I was surprised that the game had been so close. I spoke with Sisinio after that game and he agreed.

 

“They (Kyoto) were not a good side. Not a good side at all. We were much better than them. But then, you know, we concede two simple goals (those goals put Gifu 1-2 down at half time) and I start to think ‘Oh no. Again?'”

“The manager didn’t get angry at half time. He was calm. I think he wanted to show us that he still believed in us. We were angry, but he wanted to show us a different face. And it worked in the end.”

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It did work, but the Spanish midfielder alluded to the conceding of goals that are seemingly avoidable. Goals from long balls that could have been cut out; goals from crosses and particularly goals just before half time / just after scoring ourselves. Those last ones especially are ones that Gifu simply have to cut out.

So, the revolution is in effect, but it is a slow burner so far. But keep the faith – it will come. Hopefully starting today at home to relegation threatened Gunma.

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A Tale of Two Cities

One is a beautiful, rural (for Japanese standards at any rate) quiet city; the other is a down to earth, concrete jungle. The two cities are just twenty minutes apart by train, and tomorrow the football clubs from these two cities will face off against each other for the first time in a league game.

Nagoya Grampus vs FC Gifu

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Is it a derby? Well, geographically speaking, yes it is. The two clubs don’t have anyone closer to them. But can it be considered a “derby” when the two clubs have barely played a competitive game against each other? I’ll leave that for the marketing men & women to decide (and it seems they already have, given the publicity around the game).

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I’d much rather focus on the state of the two teams on the pitch, and what that will mean for the game on Saturday.

Gifu come into the game on the back of an impressive performance in the opening game against Renofa Yamaguchi, albeit a performance that yielded a disappointing 2-2 result. Gifu dominated the midfield and possession – they 71% of the ball and completed over 650 passes, something quite unheard of at Gifu. The main players in the midfield domination were Yoshihiro Shoji & Sisinio and those two combined to set the tempo for Takeshi Oki’s side. Shoji often dropped deep to pick up the ball and start attacks, while Sisinio was all across the midfield, seemingly always available as an outlet.

I spoke briefly to Sisinio after the game and put it to him that it must have nice to play in a team that had so much of the ball, and were so intent on keeping it on the ground. He said that it was something that they had worked on all pre-season, and that it was nice to see the execution of it on the field. He also said it made him a bit nervous at times when players in defensive positions tried to play the ball out from the back because there was always a chance it could go wrong, but as a footballing philosophy, he couldn’t fault it. The only disappointment for Sisinio – and the rest of the supporters – was that they didn’t get the result that they probably deserved.

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Whilst the passing was very nice to watch and an extremely positive development, the alarming part was Renofa’s ability to turn defence into attack pretty quickly, and get pressure on Gifu’s centre back pairing of Henik & Tsubasa Aoki. In the picture above, you can see very clearly the space between the midfield and Henik – the player who is about to receive the ball, and there are three Renofa players in that space, ready to take advantage if it goes wrong. That would be the space where Ryo Nagai & Hisato Sato will be looking to play in. Neither of them (Aoki & Henik) are the quickest, and many people had probably not considered Aoki a defender heading into the season, but he has a very good left foot and a solid range of passing. His midfielders intuition makes him comfortable on the ball and that is what Oki sees in him, a ball playing defender. What will make Gifu supporters nervous is that if Kazuhito Kishida can get space against Gifu’s defence, then the Grampus forward line of (presumably) Ryo Nagai – who scored five times against Gifu last season – and Hisato Sato will be equally adept at finding the soft spots.

That isn’t to say that it is a given. Oki has had a week of work with the team, including a practice game against Kataller Toyama earlier in the week in which a lot of players coming back from injury, including Hideyuki Nozawa & Cristian, got some much needed playing time. He will have seen the tape of the game, assessed what needs to be changed and will set Gifu up accordingly.

 

Nagoya are coming off an opening day win against Fagiano Okayama with Ryo Nagai, their winter signing from V-Varen Nagasaki, scoring twice. It was a decent performance from Nagoya, but that wasn’t the same Okayama team that made the J2 playoff final last year. From that side, Fagiano lost forward Yuki Oshitani (their top scorer), Hirotsugu Nakabayashi (one of the best ‘keepers in the league), Daiki Iwamasa (their defensive leader) and Shinya Yajima (the Japan U23 star who returned to Urawa). So while it is right to say Grampus got off to a good start, it would be wrong to read too much into their opponent on purely name value.

Yahiro Kazama, the new Grampus coach, set his side up in a 3-4-2-1 formation (at least it looked like that way when re-watching their game). Nagai was the lone striker who was tasked to work the central defenders hard, and Hisato Sato & Keiji Tamada – two very wily & clever veterans – were left to exploit the space between Okayama’s midfield & defence. Tamada seemingly was more content to let Sato get forward a bit more while he was more of a playmaker, although it was clear at times that Nagai & Sato could swap & change their positions at will, making it difficult for Okayama defenders to decide who to track.

In defence they played a three back system, which in theory could benefit Gifu IF they can exploit the soft zones behind the wing backs and to the side of the centre backs. I think Kazuya Miyahara is a good player with potential, but Kenta Uchida & Kushibiki (should they play) can be got at. The wildcards are the Brazilian trio that didn’t start against Okayama, including defender Charles.

The thing that Nagoya have which Gifu don’t, is depth. An example of that is when Swedish forward Robin Simovic came on for Keiji Tamada and changed the way Grampus set up. It would be wrong to class Simovic as just a physical forward becasue there is more to his game than just his height, but the fact that he is such a different player from what they have in the rest of their squad makes it all the more difficult to game plan for the opposition.

In the end, Nagoya will go into the game as heavy favourites – as they will for most games this season. Gifu will have to show more ruthlessness when it comes to chances they get than they did against Yamaguchi, when they created more than enough openings to win the game. You would probably surmise that they won’t dominate possession like they did in the opening game, but they won’t go away from that premise, I’m almost certain of it. If they can get overlaps & outnumber Grampus’ midfield at times, they will be able to have a reasonable amount of possession. If Yushi Nagashima can repeat his highly impressive Gifu debut performance, where he floated between the forward line and the midfield, he might be able to influence the game again.

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Still, you would think that Gifu supporters will travel to the magnificent Toyota Stadium more in hope than in expectation. But the team have to remember that they are in the same division for a reason, and that they deserve to be on the same, level playing field. Hope springs eternal…..

 

#WeAreGifu

Cerezo Osaka v FC Gifu

After last week’s defeat at home against Kumamoto, things are about to get much tougher as we head west to Osaka to face promotion chasing Cerezo Osaka.

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Expect a decent following of FC Gifu fans in Osaka on Saturday

FC Gifu recent form:

  • 8/8: FC Gifu 0-1 Roasso Kumamoto
  • 7/26: Omiya Ardija 5-0 FC Gifu
  • 7/22: FC Gifu 2-0 Jubilo Iwata
  • 7/18: Zweigen Kanazawa 1-1 FC Gifu

FC Gifu condition: 

I don’t think Gifu can really do much with regard to selection as injuries & fitness continue to hamper the squad. Leo Mineiro probably isn’t ready, and neither (I don’t think) is Gilsinho. My guess is that Satoshi Tokizawa will keep his place in goal, although Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi isn’t far away from returning to the squad.

Elsewhere, Yudai Ogawa trained with first team members and could be heading for a return to the matchday squad.

Cerezo Osaka condition:

Cerezo enter this game in 4th position in the league, and will be confident of seeing off Gifu and bolstering their promotion push. A lot has changed since the two sides last met in the league back in April. That day, Diego Forlan and Cacau scored the goals as Cerezo triumphed in the torrential rain.

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Diego Forlan doing an interview after April’s game

Both of those players have now departed, with Forlan back in his homeland with Penarol. In their places, Cerezo have signed former Urawa Reds forward Edmilson and fellow Brazilian Magno Cruz, and Cruz started to endear himself to the Cerezo faithful by scoring an injury time equalizer last week to rescue a point against JEF United. Hotaru Yamaguchi, who was a very good performer for Japan in the recent EAFF cup, is available for selection but could very well be given an extra bit of rest for this encounter.

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Cerezo Osaka recent form

  • 8/8: Cerezo Osaka 1-1 JEF United
  • 8/1: Ehime FC 2-1 Cerezo Osaka
  • 7/26: Jubilo Iwata 0-1 Cerezo Osaka
  • 7/22: Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Fagiano Okayama

Cerezo Osaka season stats:

  • Wins: 12
  • Draws: 9
  • Defeats: 7
  • Top scorer: Diego Forlan – 10, Keiji Tamada – 7
  • Most assists: Keiji Tamada & Pablo – 4

Cerezo v FC Gifu J.League history:

  • Cerezo wins: 6
  • Gifu wins: 1
  • Draws: 0

Cerezo easily have the edge, as you would expect. Gifu’s only win came in 2009 when they saw off Shinji Kagawa, Takashi Inui and co. off 2-1 in horrid conditions.

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Sorry for the blur, it was pretty exciting at the time…..

Stats (from Football Lab): 

  • Cerezo have conceded 36% of their goals this year from set pieces.
  • FC Gifu concede an average 2.8 goals per away game in 2015; Cerezo score an average of 1.4 per home game
  • FC Gifu average 1.8 yellow cards per game, Cerezo average 1.4
  • Both teams rank in the top four of J2 in shots on goal (14.1 for Gifu, 14.5 for Cerezo) – but Cerezo put far more on target, an average of 4.6 shots per game of theirs are on target.

ThespaKusatsu Gunma v FC Gifu

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FC Gifu make the trek to Gunma on Saturday night knowing that wins need to start coming, and they need to start coming soon.

FC Gifu recent form and condition

  • 7/26 v Omiya Ardija (A) – lost 0-5
  • 7/22 v Jubilo Iwata (H) – won 2-0
  • 7/18 v Zweigen Kanazawa (A) – drew 1-1
  • 7/12 v Yokohama FC (H) – lost 0-1

As I detailed in another post, Taisuke Mizuno is out for the foreseeable future with a nasty sounding dislocated elbow. Yuki Fuji, who also came off injured last week, is expected to be fit and to play. There is some doubt as to the availability of Daniel Lovinho, but most sources point to him not being available for the trip to the club where he made his name. Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi is back in training but I don’t expect him to get into the team just yet. Ramos might opt to take Gakuji Ota out of the firing line after last week’s humbling experience at the NACK5 stadium.

Football Lab‘s predicted starting XI: Ota, Abe, Takagi, Watanabe, Fuji, Henik, Takachi, Masuyama, Sunakawa, Kazama, Namba

ThespaKusatsu Gunma recent form and condition

  • 7/26 v Oita Trinita (A) – lost 0-2
  • 7/22 v V-Varen Nagasaki (A) – lost 0-1
  • 7/18 v Tochigi SC (H) – won 1-0
  • 7/12 v JEF United Chiba (A) – won 2-1

Gunma are a very erratic team, mixing wins against “big” clubs JEF and Jubilo with a defeat against lowly Oita. In the reverse fixture this year, forward Ataru Esaka proved Gunma’s biggest threat. He is fast, direct and not afraid to take chances against players. Another player that stepped forward in July was fellow forward Keita Nozaki. He scored the winning goal against Tochigi and also scored in the games against Tokushima & Kumamoto.

What happened last time?

Back in June, Ataru Esaka gave Gunma a first half lead, before Henik leveled things in the second period. Gifu did everything but score as they piled the pressure on but had to eventually settle for a draw in front of over 8,000 at the Nagaragawa.

In 2014: 

  • FC Gifu 1-0 ThespaKusatsu Gunma
  • ThespaKusatsu Gunma 2-2 FC Gifu

J.League history:

  • Gifu wins – 5
  • Gunma wins – 6
  • Draws – 6

Vamos Gifu!!