J.League Preview: Flying Gamba chasing Urawa
Urawa could have clinched their first J.League championship since 2006 last week but Gamba stunned the leaders 2-0 in Saitama to keep the title race alive with two rounds remaining.
Gamba (59 points, plus 26 goal difference) will host Vissel Kobe on Saturday and another victory, plus any failure by Urawa (61, plus 21) to win at fourth-placed Sagan Tosu, will see Kenta Hasegawa's Osaka-based side move into top spot in the J.League table.
If Urawa win and Gamba do not, the Reds will be crowned champions.
The match in Tosu will also be critical for the hosts, who could leapfrog Kashima Antlers into third and an AFC Champions League (ACL) berth with a win.
Tosu (56, plus seven) have won their past two games and will move past Kashima (57, plus 23) if they knock off Urawa and the Antlers fail to beat Cerezo Osaka, who are battling relegation.
Goals to Akihiro Sato and Shu Kurata in the last three minutes at Saitama Stadium saw Gamba triumph last week, while Hasegawa's team maintained that form with a 5-2 triumph over Shimizu S-Pulse in the Emperor's Cup semi-finals on Wednesday.
Takashi Usami and Patric both notched braces against Shimizu.
Gamba have only lost one of their past eight games in all competitions and should be confident against Kobe, who have lost two matches in a row and lie 10th.
After leading 3-2 at half-time in the Emperor's Cup, Hasegawa was happy with how his team ground out the result against Shimizu.
"We stayed focused in the second half and although there were a few scares the players did well. We have somehow got to the final," he said.
"We only have two days off before our next league match and I am sure that there will be a bit of tiredness physically but it is our last home game and I hope we can pull together and get a good result."
Fifth-placed Kashiwa Reysol (54, plus four) still have a chance of qualifying for the ACL and having won their past six matches in all competitions, Nelson Baptista's men should believe they can stay in contention when they host Shimizu, who sit just above the drop zone.
If Shimizu lose, Omiya Ardija could overhaul S-Pulse and move away from relegation with a victory at Nagoya Grampus, while bottom club Tokushima Vortis are already certain of playing in the second division next season ahead of their clash with Vegalta Sendai.
Lowly Ventforet Kofu will be keen to extend their winning streak to four matches when they host FC Tokyo, while in other fixtures, Kawasaki Frontale take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Yokohama F. Marinos face Albirex Niigata.