The J. League first division returns from its six-week international break this Saturday, but beneath the top flight the race for promotion is in full swing with the second division reaching its halfway point last Saturday.

Going into Wednesday night's fixtures, Gamba Osaka led the way on 46 points with Vissel Kobe two further back in second, and the Kansai duo's chances of returning to J1 after only a year's absence look strong given the eight-point gap separating them from third-place V-Varen Nagasaki outside the automatic promotion spots.

Gamba began their first-ever season in the second tier with five draws from their opening seven matches, raising questions over their ability to adjust despite retaining national team regulars Yasuhito Endo and Yasyuki Konno from the team that suffered a shock relegation last year. The former Asian champions have since found their feet in style, however, shrugging off the temporary absence of Endo and Konno on international duty to top the table with — uncharacteristically for Gamba — the division's best defensive record.