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Asian CL: Gamba & Verdy Tonight
Just a quickie post ahead of tonight's ACL group stage games.

J-League champs Gamba Osaka vs Korean FA Cup winners Chonbuk Motors

Hmm. I'm not sure how Gamba will do, but perhaps this year's squad is better handled for the ACL climate than last year's. Despite losing the goal-getting duo, Gamba did reinforce in a balanced way this pre-season. And the two games they played against Urawa so far have shown that they are slowly but surely making adjustments. This game against a K-league team should be played tough and intelligently -- my ideal would be to have them score two goals via technique (set pieces and dribbling) in the first half and then hunker down to play physical and defense in the second half.

Emperor's Cup winner Tokyo Verdy vs K-League champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i

Verdy have been handed a lucky free pass: two clubs from their group, Tobacco Monopoly of Thailand and Arema Malang of Indonesia, have been disqualified (for failure to register properly). So Verdy and Chonbuk have only to beat each other to go on to the next stage.

Of course, now that Verdy have lost most of their top players after being relegated to the 2nd division, it will be interesting to see if they can be equal to the challenge. They are of course as a club prioritizing their return to the 1st division above all else. I had reservations about allowing a division 2 team represent Japan in the CL, but there is another way to look at it. Having lost some of their star (and let's admit, somewhat coddled) players, Verdy may do better in the ACL than they would have last year, because they may not be a technically superior team but they may have a toughness that J1 teams don't. The players are fighting for their careers, and there is more to prove on various levels.

Let's Not Repeat Last Year:

You may remember from my posts last year that J-league teams have problems in the ACL. First, the amount of coverage of the ACL group stage is anemic. Aside from the fact that the clubs here prioritize the domestic league performance and get little support on their ACL endeavours, the simple fact is that for example, Gamba Osaka playing Urawa Reds is a lot sexier than if they play a Korean or Malaysian or Saudi club. No one knows anything about other Asian league clubs, there are very few players they recognize. And even at the club level, we hear that Gamba has admitted they have close to no information of their opponents...

I'm not sure what the turnout will be like this year, whether the disappointment of last year has changed the mentality of club supporters in Japan with regard to the ACL group games. Last year, the clubs were forced to try and lure spectators with prizes and free food, and in general we saw there was as great difference in terms of passion between the J supporters and those in Thailand or China, etc. Not just turnout, but the amount of atmosphere the crowds can create...making noise, cheering and booing, creating a home advantage using everything within their powers; even the ball boys trying to work things in their favor.

The other issue may be with the style of Japanese football in general. First, because the climate here is one of friendly sportmaship, the referees in the J work under certain guiding principles. The AFC refs will not be the same -- things like what will bging yellow cards, what will award PKs, etc. The J-leaguers need to learn to adjust to the difference in standards quickly. Comparatively, other Asian leagues play a lot more rougher, the physical a big part of their strength. Which is why even if some clubs don't have the technique, their strategy of quick pressure and unyielding body contact has enabled them to give Japanese clubs a lot of problems.

Because the League is considered the priority, clubs here will also have to figure out how to spread out their players between the Jleague and the ACL. Who to rest, which subs to use, whether to change system or strategy. My other concern, which was evident last year, was the way the managers (last year it was Marinos' Okada and Jubilo's Yamamoto) gave the impression of being easily stressed out, especially when they traveled to the opponents' arena. I would like to see this year's managers act with calm confidence, not fretting every time there is a kink in the plans, or the play environment is different from what is considered norm in the J, or the press asks uncomfortable questions.

I say all this of course, with no way to actually watch the games... since they take place in the middle of the work week, and since you need a premium cable package to watch on tv... sigh.

ORZ

But I will be monitoring over the internet!
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