Gamba Osaka manager Akira Nishino is under no illusions as to the enormity of the task awaiting the defending J. League champions this weekend.
Gamba travels to league-leading Urawa Reds on the last day of the season on Saturday with the aim of accomplishing what, on paper at least, would appear to be mission impossible.
Nothing less than victory by at least three goals will be enough for Gamba to stop Guido Buchwald’s Reds from winning their first title, a tall order given that Urawa is unbeaten at home this term and have not once lost by a margin of more than two goals.
But Nishino has warned against writing off his side’s hopes of a second title in a row and is optimistic ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
Nishino said, “Obviously we know it will be a difficult match but winning is not beyond the realms of possibility. We just have to stick to our style and play with pride as defending champions.
“It’s because each and every member of this team has made such an effort that we have got to this stage. I am aware that Urawa have not lost at home but we will knock them down.”
An equally fearless Akihiro Ienaga said he and his teammates would not be intimidated by the atmosphere that awaits them at a sold-out Saitama Stadium.
“People go on and on about what the atmosphere is like at Saitama Stadium but it won’t be changing the way we go about things,” said the midfielder.
Gamba has been given a major boost with the return to training of Japan striker Ryuji Bando and Yasuhito Endo, both of whom have been sorely missed in the run-in to the season.
Gamba had Magno Alves to thank for a hat trick in Sunday’s last-gasp 3-2 win that relegated Kyoto Purple Sanga, but it might not be faced with such an ominous task on Saturday had the Osakans been more ruthless in attack in the previous match away to Avispa Fukuoka.
Urawa blew the opportunity to wrap up the title with a game to spare after it was outplayed in a 0-0 draw away to FC Tokyo last Sunday. But it would take a brave man to bet against the Reds lifting the silverware on home soil.
Manager Buchwald, who could be stepping down at the end of the season to return to Germany, dismissed any possibility of an upset and urged Gamba to take a reality check.
“We have 69 points, we beat Gamba in the Xerox Cup and did not lose to them away in the league. Add to that the fact that we have not lost at home for 21 matches. I think they (Gamba) need to take another good look at this,” said Buchwald.
Urawa clinched the 2004 second-stage title, its only other previous league honor, despite a 2-1 defeat to nine-man Nagoya Grampus Eight. Winger Alessandro Santos does not want the same scenario to unfold on Saturday.
“We won the stage even though we lost to Nagoya on the day and I don’t want to experience those kind of complicated feelings again. It will mean everything if we can win it at home with an unbeaten record,” said Santos.