So the final song to be sung at this year's concerto takes place on Wednesday and Saturday as southern rivals Kyoto Sanga FC and Sanfrecce Hiroshima square off. A lot of small battles will take place. No witty rejoinders here, let's dig in and take a look at the situation at hand, shall we?
Forwards: It's a definite case of injuries versus ineffectiveness as both teams have seen their scoring profiency ebb and flow throughout the year. Sanfrecce's combo of Hisato Sato and Ueslei have 29 goals between the two of them, but just 3 since the end of September (All Sato). Kyoto, meanwhile has had to trudge along without its two star Brazilian strikers, Andre and Paulinho. How far Sanga can go depends on the duo of Yutaka Tahara and Takaaki Tokushige who have notched 9 and 8 goals respectively. If Paulinho can go, Kyoto is far more dangerous. If he can't, Kyoto is gonna struggle.
Midfield: On paper, it looks like a blowout for Sanfrecce. Led by Japan National Teamer Yuichi Komano, the boasts a ton of speed and talent in the middle. The loss of U-23 DM Toshihiro Aoyama hasn't helped, but the squad boasts depth at all 5 spots, occasionally using either Toda or Stovanov as a point for the defense. Kyoto has relied on a triangle of Toshiya Ishii, Daisuke Saito, and Hiroki Nakayama to anchor the center of the field. If the triangle stands, Kyoto will do well. If they fail, Kyoto is done.
Defense: Arguably the weak links for both squads. Sanfrecce let up an atrocious 71 goals......the next worst was Yokohama FC with 66. Kazuyuki Toda and Illyan Stovanov are the two key members in a 3 back and both have been woeful. GK Takashi Shimoda is having arguably the worst season of his career, letting in soft goals. Kyoto goes with a 4 back defense that was middle of the pack in J2. the key man in the back is Ryuzo Morioka who anchors the back in the middle. GK Naohito Hirai will have to be at the top of his game because Sanfrecce loves to push up and take a ton of shots.
Bench: Depending on injuries, Paulinho could be a key man late in the game off the bench. U-23 MF Yosuke Kashiwagi is a dangerous weapon off the bench. However if he has to start, Sanfrecce is in trouble for sure.
Coaching: A case can be made that Mihailio Petrovic has been the worst coach in the J League for 2007. Julio Leal might have soemthing to say about it but if someone has done less with more, I'd love for someone to educate me on this. Hisashi Kato stepped in late for an ineffective Naohiko Minobe and steadied a listless ship. Seemingly, Kato has not made a wrong step in his brief tenure as head man.
Intangibles: Well, Sanfrecce last won in league competition on September 1st against Yokohama FC. Their last 10 games have produced a mere 3 points and a 0-7-3 record. The good news for them is that the last time they played a J2 squad in a meaningful competition, they won 3-0 against Shonan Bellmare. In the same stretch, Kyoto has a 4-4-1 record, including a big win against Vegalta Sendai to ensure the playoff spot. However the end of 2007 had both teams tying......eerily, Sanfrecce stole a tie at the same point in their game as Kyoto was losing their win to Thespa Kusatsu. Sanfrecce played with a ton of first stringers out and really nothing to gain or lose. We'll see how they respond with the return of key players Ueslei, Toda, Stoyanov, and Kasuyuki Morisaki.
Final Verdict- Sanfrecce has been asking to be dropped from the start and now they have their chance. On paper this should be a cakewalk for the Hiroshima club, but bad management and a lack of heart has shown through. Time and time again, this squad has failed to step up in must win games and I don't think it will change. Alot o young talent waits in the wings for Hiroshima and maybe a drop would be just the ticket to shake them out of their doldrums. Kyoto seems to want to be in J1 and I think they will find a way to scratch their way into it when all is said and done.
But I could be completely off.