Soccer / J. League

Gamba, Sanfrecce put title aspirations on the line

Kyodo

Gamba Osaka manager Kenta Hasegawa hopes his players will get a second wind when the defending champions take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the first leg of the J. League Championship final on Wednesday at Expo Stadium.

While Hiroshima, which advanced directly to the final after finishing with the most points over two stages, is on nine days’ rest, Gamba had to slog through extra time to beat Urawa Reds 3-1 in their playoff in Saitama on Saturday.

“I am sure the players are tired but they are fired up to battle it out in the final,” said Hasegawa, whose players have had a punishing season yet reached the Nabisco Cup final, the semifinals of the Asian Champions League and are still involved in the last eight of the Emperor’s Cup.

“We want to give it everything we have got,” he added.

Gamba finished third and snatched the last playoff spot on the final day of the regular season before goals late in extra time from Hiroki Fujiharu and Patric on Saturday booked their spot in the final.

Hasegawa’s men will also have revenge on their minds against Sanfrecce, having lost 2-0 at home to the 2012 and 2013 league champions on Nov. 7.

“We want a bit of payback (against Hiroshima) and want to get the home win,” said Gamba striker Takashi Usami. “We are all tired both mentally and physically but want to get a result.”

In contrast, Gamba captain Yasuhito Endo believes his team’s game against Urawa could give them the edge.

“We can’t afford to be saying we are tired,” said Endo, Japan’s most capped player. “Maybe the extra game (against Urawa) will give us an advantage in terms of match fitness.”

Hiroshima captain Toshihiro Aoyama said, “Gamba are a team of hard workers but we have got to get on with the job at hand.”

The second leg will take place at Edion Stadium on Saturday.

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