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A one, two or three-horse race?

14 Jun 2007(Thu)

June 12, 2007: Last weekend was Round 14 of 34 in J1 -- and it may well go down as a turning point in the 2007 season.

Suddenly, Gamba Osaka are seven points clear, even though Reds have a game in hand due to their involvement in the A3 Champions Cup (what do the three As stand for anyway? Another Avoidable Absence?).

Reds stayed second in the J1 table, even without playing, as none of the teams within range could win on the day. A worrying factor for those predicting a two-horse race already.

All of which combined to propel Albirex Niigata into a lofty fourth place, following their 3-1 victory at home to Vissel Kobe.

Earlier this season I saw Albirex demolish a poor, but now improving, FC Tokyo at Ajista, and liked what I saw -- a tidy, well organised team with three good foreign players.

Only two of them were on duty against Kobe, and they accounted for all three goals.

Marcio Richardes, who plays on the right side of midfield, got the first two; with a free kick that deceived Tatsuya Enomoto by entering the middle of the goal rather than the corner, and with a crisp, close-range header.

The third goal was another stylish header following another clever move, scored by Edmilson -- one of my favourite foreign players in the league for his power and his poise, which is an attractive and dangerous combination. (In fact he is so smooth I am surprised Gamba have not signed him under their risk-free policy of relieving less glamorous clubs of Brazilian imports of proven quality and character! Maybe next season.)

Although the season is not quite at the halfway stage, seven points is a handy lead for Gamba and will keep their rivals under pressure.

Personally, I think two teams are capable of catching Gamba: Reds and Frontale, although both of them are drawing too many games and have won only six apiece this season, compared to Gamba's nine league victories. There's the difference.

In midfield and attack, Gamba have plenty of quality on the pitch and the bench, so the only area where they look vulnerable is a lack of cover in central defence for Sidiclei and Yamaguchi.


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