AFC Champions League: Will 2015 Be Japan’s Year?

Seven long years have passed since Japan’s last major continental success.

It was November 2008 and Gamba Osaka was thrashing Australian team Adelaide United in the AFC Champions League Final. 3-0 in the first leg and 2-0 in the second leg conquering Asia (and Australia alike) for the very first time. After that success however, they crumbled and never got past the Round of 16…until now.

This year, the former AFC Champions League winners passed that hurdle by knocking out Korean side FC Seoul in the first elimination round and now, the team is all eyes on the big prize. But before even dreaming of a continental repeat, the Japanese need to eliminate one more Korean team in the quarter-finals. Jeonbuk Motors is currently dominating the K-League Classic and seem to have the momentum on their side: they won four of their last five games including a dramatic win against Jeonnam Dragons after being at a disadvantage for 85 minutes. On the other side, Gamba Osaka didn’t start the second stage of the J-League Division 1 well and only won once in the last five domestic games. In the first leg of the AFC Champions League, the Japanese will have to travel to South Korea and will try to come up with a good result.

“Although it is an advantage that we are going to play at home in the second leg, I feel our performance in the first match away to Jeonbuk is actually more important,” Osaka coach Hasegawa said, according to the-AFC.com.

In the group stage, Jeonbuk Motors had their share of problems in the two clashes against Kashiwa Reysol, the other Japanese quarter-finalist, but back then, the team was different. They were led by Brazilians Edu and Eninho who left this summer. Now, Jeonbuk has other stars like Luiz Henrique, Spanish striker Urko Vera and former AFC Player of the Year, Lee Keun-ho. What they also have is dreams…big dreams.

“We always go into each game with a positive feeling. The teams left in the East are all difficult teams. No matter which team we face we’ll have to beat them to win the AFC Champions League,” Korean captain Lee Dong-gook explained.

And if indeed they beat Gamba Osaka, they could make yet another trip to Japan in the semi-finals, this time to face their group stage opponents, Kashiwa Reysol. Kashiwa had a great start in the J-League Division 1 second stage and won their last three domestic matches. In the AFC Champions League quarter-finals, they will face Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande. Like Jeonbuk, Guangzhou made significant changes this summer starting with the manager: in June, Felipe Scolari replaced Fabio Cannavaroand returned to the top Asian club competition after a six-year break. In 2009, Scolari propelled Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor to the quarter-finals. Now, the Brazilian wants a repeat of the 2013 performance when Guangzhou won the prestigious competition. Much like this year, the Chinese side clashed with Kashiwa Reysol in the knockout stage. Back then, they hammered the Japanese 8-1 on aggregate. Can they do it again or will 2015 be Japan’s year?

Sports Betting Tip

Expect a lot of goals in the Jeonbuk Motors – Gamba Osaka quarter-finals. The Japanese have a shaky defense with 12 goals conceded in their last seven games.Jeonbuk’s defense is also at risk if we count the game against Pohang Steelers lost 3-0. So our football prediction would be 2.5 or more goals scored in the first leg set for next week.

By: Florian Gheorghe

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