Mariners look to silence Reysol
Kashiwa Reysol have some of the most passionate supporters in the J.League and the Mariners won't be welcomed, but they can definitely silence the underperforming Japanese side.
If the Central Coast Mariners are to reach the Round of 16 in the AFC Champions League they almost certainly need to win at least one game away from home.
Had midfielder Nick Montgomery scored from the penalty spot against South Korean side Suwon Bluewings in the Mariners- opening ACL match, Graham Arnold-s men would have travelled to Japan to face reigning Emperor-s Cup champions Kashiwa Reysol in a strong position.
Instead Suwon goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong held his nerve to deny the Englishman from 11 metres, however all is not lost for a Central Coast side looking for a confidence boost as they come up against a Kashiwa outfit in scratchy form themselves.
The side from north-western Chiba was thumped 3-0 by capital club FC Tokyo at the weekend in a match in which Reysol coach Nelsinho-s team looked decidedly shaky in defence.
Central defenders Naoya Kondo and Daisuke Suzuki were caught square after just six minutes by a simple through ball from FC Tokyo midfielder Takuji Yonemoto, and as the pair appealed in vain for offside, striker Kazuma Watanabe thumped home a routine opener.
It was to be the start of a torrid afternoon for the Kashiwa defence and just over 20 minutes later they fell asleep to leave Watanabe completely unmarked as he rattled home on the half-volley from Keigo Higashi-s mis-hit shot.
And after FC Tokyo-s new star recruit Tadanari Lee came off the bench to thump a shot against the crossbar, the impressive Ariajasuru Hasegawa eventually completed a comfortable win for the Gasmen by blasting home from just inside the penalty area.
It wasn-t the first time Kashiwa has been outclassed this season.
Last season-s Cup winners played second fiddle to J. League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the season-opening Super Cup, going down 1-0 courtesy of a sensational Hisato Sato volley and looking second-best throughout.
A narrow 1-0 win away at Chinese side Guizhou Renhe in their opening ACL encounter won-t have papered over the cracks already showing in the Kashiwa back four.
Veteran Naoya Kondo is an old-school bruiser in the heart of the Reysol defence and while younger compatriot Daisuke Suzuki isn-t quite as slow, neither are exactly renowned for their fleetness of foot.
Should Brazilian tactician Nelsinho decide to freshen up the defence, he-s got Hirofumi Watanabe - the seldom-used defender who scored the unlikeliest of Emperor-s Cup winners - to call upon.
But frankly the Reysol back four looks vulnerable against the Mariners- pace and penetration, not least because goalkeeper Takanori Sugeno remains susceptible in the air despite being a tremendous shot-stopper.
There-s one more thing which could favour the Mariners going into this clash - a lack of atmosphere inside Kashiwa-s compact Hitachi Stadium.
While most Japanese clubs enjoy hosting a convivial mix of teenagers, couples and families in the stands, there is no doubt Kashiwa-s fan base is harder-edged.
Some of the worst instances of crowd trouble in the J. League have involved Reysol in one way or another and their supporters are notorious for giving opposing teams a hostile reception.
A narrow warren of neon-lit alleyways and concrete skyscrapers, Kashiwa itself is a nondescript commuter town on the northern fringes of Tokyo.
Perhaps that explains why the locals take so much pride in their club, but the trouble for the Asian Football Confederation is that many of those locals will still be at work when the game kicks off.
Try as they might to replicate the wildly successful European version, what the AFC fails to take into account are some of the cultural differences across the vast confederation - one of which is that employees in East Asian nations tend to work back late.
So while Kashiwa-s hardcore element will do their utmost to take their place behind the goal, there could be plenty of empty seats elsewhere. That could favour the Mariners, who will hope to return from Kashiwa anything but empty-handed.