KASHIWA, CHIBA PREF. – Yuki Otsu is hoping to mark his homecoming with a win when Kashiwa Reysol begin the post-Nelsinho era on Tuesday night against Chonburi in a playoff for the Asian Champions League.
Kashiwa takes on the Thai Premier League runnersup for a place in the group stage of the competition, and London Olympic striker Otsu, the club’s main close-season signing, admits he is relishing taking to the pitch again at Hitachi Stadium.
“It is a one-off and we have to get the job done to reach the next stage,” Otsu, back at Reysol after spells with German club Borussia Monchengladbach and VVV Venlo in the Netherlands, said Monday.
“I am looking forward to playing on the international stage again, not just in the J. League.
“I want to help the team win titles and what is on my mind is delivering results. It is great for me to be back here at Hitachi Stadium again and I am looking forward to it immensely. There is a great atmosphere in the squad.”
The winner of Tuesday’s game will join a Group E that features South Korea’s Jeonbuk Motors, the 2006 ACL winners, Shandong Luneng of China and Vietnamese side Binh Duong.
Kashiwa finished fourth in the J. League last season and earned a place in the playoffs after champions Gamba Osaka also took the Emperor’s Cup in a treble-winning season.
Gamba, Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers secured automatic slots from the J. League.
New Reysol manager Tatsuma Yoshida takes over from Brazilian Nelsinho, who stepped down at the end of last season and joined Vissel Kobe after winning the league in 2011, the 2012 Emperor’s Cup and the Nabisco Cup in 2013, when Kashiwa also reached the ACL semis.
Yoshida, who was the club’s director of development, said he was pleased with the team’s preparations and is ready to start the campaign.
“We have had roughly four weeks of preseason training and the team is in good condition,” Yoshida told a press conference.
“Chonburi have already started playing in the ACL and they started their league season, too, on Friday so they come here with a bit of momentum, but we have prepared accordingly and hopefully we can put on a good performance and get the win.
“There is a lot of merit for Kashiwa as a club being in the ACL and obviously it is better for Japanese soccer to have four teams in it rather than three.”
Chonburi earned a crack at Kashiwa after hammering Hong Kong’s Kitchee 4-1 in the second round of qualifying on Feb. 10. They built on that result by opening their domestic campaign with a 3-1 win over newly promoted Saraburi at Bor Jor Stadium.
Snow could arrive on Tuesday and Chonburi manager Jadet Meelarp admitted the change in climate is a source of concern.
“We have come from a hot country so the weather could play a part and I am wondering how we will be able to play in the circumstances,” he said.
“But we have prepared well. It is difficult to say where we might be better than Kashiwa but we have a very strong determination to win.”
Konno tears hamstring
Gamba Osaka’s Japan midfielder Yasuyuki Konno is expected to miss the start of the J. League season after being diagnosed with a torn left hamstring that will sideline him for four to six weeks, the Japanese treble winners said Monday.
Konno suffered the injury in a preseason game against Yokohama F. Marinos on Friday. He injured the same hamstring during last month’s Asian Cup in Australia.
Gamba launch their 2015 campaign at home in the Asian Champions League on Feb. 24, with the first stage of the J. League opening on March 7 when the defending champions host FC Tokyo.
“It’s the second time he’s done it so we can’t push it,” Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa said. “He has to make sure he doesn’t rush back.”