With captain Hidekazu Otani out due to suspension, and a lack of consistency being the only constant for Kashiwa it’s only stage fright that can stop Guangzhou Evergrande from qualifying for the Asian Champions League Final. The two legged final will see them meet either FC Seoul or Esteghlal.
It’s a promoters dream but can Kashiwa Reysol expect to compete with Guangzhou Evergrande? Over the two legs of the Champions League semi final I think not.
Kashiwa will host Guangzhou on Wenedsay night, September 25th. The two teams met twice in 2012 during the group stage, and the result then could well be repeated this year. While in Japan Kashiwa managed a 0-0 draw, but at Tianhe Stadium Guangzhou scored a comfortable 3-1 victory. It may be stating the obvious but Kashiwa need to pull out all stocks in order to prevent away goals while at Hitachi Stadium. The ‘sun kings’ won’t want to be travelling to China next week needing away goals in front of a likely packed house.
Working in Kashiwa’s favour is their recruitment of Cleo from Guangzhou Evergrande. The forward was recently quoted by the South China Morning Post saying, “I think their strength lies in their attacking player.” He put a big emphasis on the contributions of Muriqui and Elkeson, and said of his own position that he wasn’t focused on revenge. Also in Kashiwa’s favour, fortunately or unfortunately is the fact that their J League hopes are dashed so the Champions League is no doubt the central focus. What is questionable though is Kashiwa’s topsy turvy inconsistent form this year. East Asian Soccer noted recently that Kashiwa had lost a number of matches that they were expected to win, and over a two legged semi final this is sure to ‘rear its ugly head’ again.
Meanwhile, Guangzhou have all the momentum with a 6-1 aggregate win over Qatar’s Lekhwiya. Apart from personal favourite Muriqui, the Japanese should watch out for fullback Linpeng Zhang. The tattooed defender will be up and down the sideline all night ensuring the Kashiwa midfield doesn’t get too comfortable. Manager Marcello Lippi spoke to the AFC website recently and gave a backhanded complement saying, “I have studied lots of DVDs and looked at how Kashiwa play and they have a good balance to their side and they are very stable.” He added, “They have a strong away record but I am not sure why, maybe this is due to luck.”