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Cerezo Host Gamba In First Osaka Derby In Three Years

Friday 14th April 2017
Osaka is second only to Tokyo as Japan's largest metropolitan area. It's only fitting the city should have a derby rivaling Madrid, Manchester, or Milan's. Yet, this weekend will mark the first competitive meeting between Cereza and Gamba Osaka since 2014.

The Osaka Derby has been an important fixture in Japanese football for years.First contested in the 1970s, the clubs were then known as Yanmar Diesel and Matsushita Electric Industrial. Matsushita was awarded a place in the inaugural 1992 J.League season as Gamba Osaka. The derby was renewed when Yanmar, newly christened Cerezo Osaka, earned top flight promotion. As with any derby, the clubs play for bragging rights as well as league position, always seeking dominance over one another.

Both clubs have history to recite when claiming superiority. Gamba have won far more titles than its rivals, including J1 and J2 league titles, every available Japanese cup, and an AFC Champions League triumph in 2008. Cerezo was more successful before the J.League's inception, winning ten pieces of silverware between 1968 and 1984. Theirs is almost a Manchester United/Liverpool rivalry in terms of their respective legacies, but Cerezo straddles the Lancastrian line by also being synonymous with erstwhile United star, Diego Forlán. The Uruguayan was first capped for his national side whilst playing for the Sakura.
There have been several milestones in the Osaka Derby, the debut J.League meeting between the rivals among its first. In 1995, the two sides christened the derby's J.League era before 13,000 fans. Cerezo Osaka won, scoring the lone goal.

The highest scoring Osaka Derby is one Gamba fans remember fondly. The 7-1 romp took place during the 2004 season.

The sides also met in the AFC Champions League round of sixteen in 2011, when Osaka's football scene was arguably at its peak. The match ended 1-0 to Cerezo, which went on to represent Japan in the quarter-finals.

The match hasn't been contested since 2014, however. Cerezo spent two years exiled from the top tier after being relegated to J2. Their last meeting ended 2-0 in Gamba's favour. This weekend's match won't resemble that match very much. Goal scorers Hiroyuki Abe and Akihiro Sato have both moved on, as have many others from both sides.
Gamba comes into the derby having lost back-to-back games, a home defeat to its other close rival, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, then mid-week in the AFC Champions League to Chinese Super League side Jiang Suning, 3-0. Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa will be very upset with those results but more so performances that lacked a cutting edge. It's fair comment to say nobody is assuming scoring responsibilities within the club; it's goal by committee. Ademilson is the likely candidate to lead the line but only has two league goals and two in the Champions League.

Meanwhile, at thirty-seven, Yashuhito Endō remains a key player for Gamba Osaka, having made three assists for the team. When he partners with fellow veteran Yasuyuki Konno, the two often find the net, displaying excellent link up and combination play.

At the back, Cerezo's key man is Matej Jonjić. The Croatian joined this season from K League's Incheon United. Given he's not been with this newly promoted side long, he's doing everything right. You'd be forgiven for thinking the defender was a forward, as he's the Cherry Blossoms' top scorer. Fantastic as that is, his defensive leadership is better, marshaling the team to four consecutive clean sheets.

Cerezo have a more traditional attacking threat in Kenyu Sugimoto, leading the Sakura with fourteen goals in J2 last season. He's played every minute, every game, so far this campaign without finding goal. Born in Osaka and having spent the bulk of his career with Cerezo, there will be no better time for him to break his duck than the Osaka Derby, before raucous home support at the Yanmar Stadium.

The home side enters the match in fantastic form, having beaten defending champions, Kashima Antlers, at the weekend, away from home, no less. The Cherry Blossoms also managed to remain unbeaten in J.League Cup competition mid-week, against Ventforet Kofu, playing out a 0-0 result. Manager Kiyoshi Okuma rested his key players in that competition, keeping a fresh squad for the Osaka Derby.

The weekend is set up perfectly, with the sides level on eleven league points from identical results: three wins, two draws, and a single loss. Both sides expect to emerge as current kings of the Kinsai football scene by taking a hearty three points to top the table. A draw won't be sufficient for either after nearly three years without a meeting to settle turf rights in the Osaka prefect.

Kickoff is early Sunday morning, 6:00 AM UK time. The game will be available to stream via Bet365 to British audiences. Among the J.League's marquee matches, it's not one to miss for any Japanese football fan.

Warren Smith

Yokohama F•Marinos supporter. Seen it all in the J.League, relegation fights and being crowned champions. Play five-a-side, pretty good too. Once scored an overhead kick.

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