Guido Buchwald says Urawa’s preseason plans have been thrown into chaos by the scheduling of Japan’s World Cup warmup matches, but the German is still confident of leading the Reds to the J. League title.

News photoShinji Ono holds the ball from Gamba’s Fernandinho during their Xerox Super Cup match on Feb. 25. Ono returned to Urawa from Feyenoord in the close season and will be leading the Reds’ charge for their first-ever J. Lleague title.

The Saitama giants are overwhelming favorites to go one better than last year’s second place finish and clinch the J1 championship for the first time in the club’s history, but manager Buchwald says the national team’s recent friendlies against the United States, Finland and Bosnia and Herzegovina have come slap bang in the middle of vital strategy sessions.

“Only in Japan and possibly Korea do you have a preseason without your best players,” he said before the Japan squad jetted off to Germany for the Bosnia game, which it drew 2-2.

“I am without my five best players. This is a big problem, but it’s not only our problem, it’s a problem for all the teams with national team players ahead of the World Cup.”

New signing Shinji Ono, Alex Santos, Makoto Hasebe, Keisuke Tsuboi and Ryota Tsuzuki have spent a lot of time with the Japan squad since January.

“I can only hope they know what kind of football we want to play. My concern is Reds football and we must win.”

The build up to the World Cup may have thrown a spanner into his preseason works, but Buchwald, 45, still oozes confidence when talking about the Saitama team’s chances for the upcoming season.

“We signed a lot of good players but we were a good team before. I hope we can work together and take the next step and win the championship.”

One bonus for Buchwald was Zico’s decision to leave Hasebe out of the squad that went to Germany for the Bosnia game, after the midfielder made an impressive debut as a substitute in the 3-2 loss to the United States and started his first game for Japan in the 6-0 rout of India.

“I am happy Hasebe isn’t included in Zico’s squad,” Buchwald said of the 22-year-old.

“He played very well, he was the best player for Japan in their last game against India and in my opinion I think Zico now knows about him.”

Lining up alongside the emerging Hasebe this season will be Urawa’s big name signings: striker Washington from Tokyo Verdy and, of course, Ono from Feyenoord.

But it’s young left-back Takahito Soma, plundered from relegated Verdy, that has got Buchwald raving.

“Soma is one of the best talents in Japan,” he said of the the 24-year-old, “but he’s a young player and needs a little more time.”

Buchwald’s signings combine promise and proven talent and have significantly strengthened the team.

Gamba Osaka’s wheelings and dealings after winning its first-ever J. League title have seen the break up of the feared attacking triumvirate of Fernandinho, Masashi Oguro and Araujo.

Only Fernandhino remains, but Buchwald believes the Kansai side’s new signings are more than good enough to keep the team up near the top.

“I don’t think Gamba will be weaker this year than last. Because Magno Alves is a really good player and (Ryuji) Bando is also a good player. Last year he had a lot of problems, he was injured, but he’s a strong player.

“And for us it was the same last year. We lost Emerson, but the team improved.

“The good teams all have a lot of national team players, Gamba included; Tsuneyasu Miyamoto, Yasuhito Endo, Akira Kaji on the right side now, and when they lose one or two players often the others step it up and sometimes play the same or even better.

“Without Araujo, Gamba may develop a better passing game or better defense . . . there are more than one or two players on a team.”

Buchwald is in agreement with other managers that the race for the title could be as close as last year, when five teams still had a chance on the final day of the season, an added incentive being that the title winner will qualify for December’s Club World Championship in Japan.

“My opinion is that there are a lot of teams that can win the championship. But you cannot say before the season who those teams are. You may have an idea, but during the season a lot of things can happen, be it injuries, be it national team commitments, or one or two players who aren’t in good condition.

“But it is very close, and there are five or six teams who should be competing. And there’s always someone in there who you don’t expect, like Cerezo last year. It’s the same in every league around the world.”

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