Thursday, February 26, 2009

Super Cup kicks off new J. League campaign

J. League
The Fuji Xerox Super Cup between reigning J. League champions Kashima Antlers and Emperor's Cup holders Gamba Osaka kicks off the seventeenth season of professional football in Japan on Saturday.

The two heavyweights of the Japanese game will meet at the National Stadium in Tokyo, and Kashima will be looking to erase the memories of last year's controversial defeat when referee Masaaki Iemoto took centre stage - sending off three players, awarding a dubious penalty and ordering two spot-kicks retaken during a penalty shoot-out that ended in a pitch invasion.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima won that controversial encounter on penalties, while Iemoto was temporarily stood down by the Japan Football Association following what was a highly contentious refereeing performance.

Kashima coach Oswaldo de Oliveira will hope there is no repeat controversy this time around, although his counterpart Akira Nishino has greater concerns.

New signings Cho Jae-Jin and Leandro both look set to miss the clash through injury, meaning that Lucas Severino and Masato Yamazaki are likely to start in attack for Gamba Osaka. Cho and Leandro were signed from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Vissel Kobe respectively, to bolster an attack that struggled to overcome the mid-season departure of Brazilian front man Baré last season.

Meanwhile veterans Akira Kaji and Takahiro Futagawa are struggling for fitness with the new league season just around the corner, meaning that Gamba are likely to start the Super Cup with a depleted side.

Last season just 27,245 fans turned out in the capital for the annual season-0pener, and with rain forecast and Kashima hosting Urawa Reds in a crackerjack opening day league fixture - even fewer fans may turn out this time around.

Nevertheless both teams will be determined to add another trophy to their collection and fire the first salvo in what looks set to be another long and absorbing Japanese campaign.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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