KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – It would take a Herculean effort for Kashiwa Reysol to match their 2011 achievements over the coming season, but the reigning J. League champions see no reason why they cannot raise the bar and go even higher.
Reysol won their first league title last season just a year after being promoted as second-division champions, and capped a scarcely believable 12 months with a semifinal appearance at the Club World Cup against South American heavyweights Santos in December.
Last season’s success has earned Kashiwa a crack at this year’s Asian Champions League for the first time, and new signing Daisuke Nasu believes his teammates have what it takes to pull off an unprecedented J. League-ACL double triumph.
“Obviously it won’t be easy, but we have players with the potential to do it,” said Nasu, who has transferred from Jubilo Iwata, at Kashiwa’s season-opening event on Tuesday evening. “The manager is excellent, and the image I had before coming here was of a very solid unit. We definitely have the potential to win both, and I want to play a part in it.”
Nasu has been joined in Kashiwa by Brazilian striker Ricardo Lobo, who hit 12 goals last season for second-division Tochigi SC. Brazilians Jorge Wagner and Leandro Domingues were a big factor in Kashiwa’s success last season, and Lobo is licking his lips at the thought of linking up with his fellow countrymen.
“Leandro is better than good — he’s fantastic,” Lobo said of last season’s J. League player of the year. “He’s a very intelligent player with great passing ability, and not only does he create goals but he scores them too. With him playing behind me, I’m sure I will get plenty of chances.”
Lobo is also excited to be working with manager Nelsinho, who was given a predictably raucous welcome when he took the stage to greet fans at Kashiwa Civic Culture Hall on Tuesday.
“He’s a very clever strategist,” Lobo said of Nelsinho. “He knows exactly when to make his substitutions, and he’s very calm under pressure. He gets results, and it will be great to play for him.”
Oswaldo Oliveira will be a tough act to follow after leaving Kashima Antlers over the winter, but replacement manager Jorginho’s reputation certainly gives him a head start.
The 1994 World Cup-winning Brazilian was revered in Ibaraki during his four years there as a player from 1995 to 1999, and his return has sent spirits soaring after the disappointment of last season’s sixth-place finish.
“It makes me very happy to be back here and meet the fans again, and I was given a very touching welcome,” said Jorginho, who was assistant to Dunga in charge of the Brazilian national team at the 2010 World Cup. “When we won the title in 1996 and 1998 we had great celebrations with the fans. I remember the love and respect they showed toward us then, and I can feel it again now.
“Antlers are the club with the most titles in Japan, and we have to build on that by always being conscious of it and always aiming for the top. We have to be the main force in this league always — we can’t be second or third.”
Gamba Osaka also welcomed a blast from the J. League’s past, with former national team striker Wagner Lopes returning from his native Brazil to take up a position as head coach.
The 43-year-old, who was granted Japanese citizenship in 1997 and played at the World Cup in France a year later, was originally offered the manager’s job at Gamba only for the Japan Football Association to rule him ineligible.
Jose Carlos Serrao will now lead the Osaka club into the new campaign, but Lopes is more than happy to assist his compatriot.
“It is a position of responsibility, and I will do everything I can to support the manager,” he said. “The aim is to treat every game with importance, win, and capture the title. We need everyone pulling together to do that, and we are aiming for the championship.”
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