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AFC Preview - Suwon Bluewings vs. Gamba Osaka


 (Photo source: www.bluewings.kr)

After months of quiet anticipation, competitive football is finally back in Korea and it sure feels good. Add to that, a Korea vs. Japan clash, something that the locals always relish, and the atmosphere at Big Bird will be almost at fever pitch. Both teams finished in 2nd place in their respective leagues last season, as well, so the game should be a great one with some quality players on show.

Suwon Bluewings actually had a semi-successful ACL campaign last season and put in some terrific performances on the pitch. They produced some dazzling attacking football in the group stage scoring 11 goals in total and finished tied on points at the top of group G with Beijing Guoan. The highlight of that campaign came in Saitama when a spirited 2nd half fightback saw Suwon Buewings come from behind to beat Urawa Red Diamonds, the winning goal coming in the 89th minute from Kaio.

In fact, at that time it looked like they would go on and mount a serious challenge for the cup, but a mad first half at home to Kashiwa Reysol in the first knockout round put paid to all those hopes. That night the team played some truly suicidal football in the first 45 minutes and the tie was all but over after Kashiwa scored their 3rd away goal. However, Suwon produced another spirited performance in the 2nd leg, going 2-0 up and taking a lead on aggregate, but eventually let in a goal and they crashed out of the cup on the away goals rule. Shortly after, Jong Tae-se left for Japan and Suwon's season started to go downhill.

Suwon Bluewings still haven't solved their striker crisis but the Bluewings faithful will be hoping for more of the free flowing, attacking football that they were treated to in last seasons group stages.

Gamba Osaka

Within recent years Gamba Osaka have been a consistently strong team within the J League and have been crowned champions 3 times in the history of the league. Moreover, they have only finished outside of the top 4 in the J League 3 times in the last decade. In 2012 Gamba Osaka suffered a shock relegation to the second tier of Japanese football, but since then they have bounced back even stronger. 2013 and 2014 saw back to back championship winning seasons and last season they finished as runners up to the champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

Last season, Gamba Osaka had a great run in the ACL also. They scored 10 goals in the group stage and eventually topped their group, albeit only on goal difference. But their best performances came in the knockout stages. In the round of 16 they dispatched FC Seoul with ease winning the tie 6-3 on aggregate. And then they beat eventual K League champions, Jeonbuk, in the quarter finals. The tie finished 3-2, but Jeonbuk hearts were broken with only a minute remaining in the game. Jeonbuk had scored an 88th minute equaliser that would have seen them qualify for the Semi-Final on the away goals rule. However, in the 93rd minute of the game Koki Yonekura popped up to slot home and send Gamba Osaka through as winners. They eventually succumbed to Guangzhao Evergrande in the Semi-Final but the whole campaign can be deemed as a relative success for Gamba.

Gamba Osaka have a formidable team but the one player that Suwon will need to watch closely is Takashi Usama. The frontman has previously spent time in Germany playing mainly for 1899 Hoffenheim but also spent time with German giants Bayern Munich, although his playing time was limited. Usama is a current Japan international player and has been prolific in the J League scoring 48 goals in his last 3 seasons. He has pace in abundance and is comfortable receiving the ball to his feet or running in behind the defence. I thoroughly expect that he will be the key to the game. If Suwon can keep him quiet then they may have a small chance of getting a positive result from the game.

Gamba Osaka also have a pair of talented Brazilians in Patric and Ademilson. Ademilson is certainly the player that poses the most danger to Suwon's goal. The striker scored 10 goals in all competitions last season but it's his all round contribution that should worry the Suwon defence. Ademilson is strong and his physical style could very much upset the Suwon back 4.

Prediction

I think the eventual result will all boil down to two key factors; 1.) can Suwon contain Gamba's star players, and 2.) how good is Suwon's new Brazilian striker Hygor?

As I said above, if Suwon can stop Usama and Ademilson then they may have a chance of winning the game. A lot of that will depend upon who Seo Jung-won will choose to play in midfield. The likelihood is that he will deploy Yeom Ki-hun, Kwon Chang-hoon and Kim Jong-woo in the advanced midfield positions, but it is unknown who he will chose to play the holding role. Whoever is tasked with that role needs to have a very strong game, otherwise it could be a very long night for Suwon.

But, even if Suwon can limit Osaka's attack then they still require their own goal threat and this responsibility lies on the shoulders of an unknown Brazilian. Hygor is this man and he's a little bit of an unknown quantity and nobody is quite sure what we can expect from him. Last season he was plying his trade in the 2nd tier of the Sao Paolo district of Brazlian football. That level is a far cry from the quality that Gamba Osaka will pose and it is a mystery whether Hygor will be just another Kaio or if he will be a surprise package. I am personally hoping that the latter will be the case.

Overall, I think both teams will cancel each other out. It is inevitable that Suwon will concede but also with the talented midfield that Suwon possess it is also reasonable to assume that they will fashion a handful of scoring opportunites. It is just down to Hygor to convert those opportunities on the night.

Predicted Scoreline: 1-1

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