Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Cerezo Osaka have been two of the best teams in the Meiji Yasuda J1 League for months. They’ve climbed steadily up the table, with the Viola sitting second and the Sakura fifth, and harbor dreams of playing in next season’s AFC Champions League.
This weekend, the two sides clash at Yodoka Sakura Stadium, with those dreams very much on the line.
The Viola and Sakura are both riding matching three-match win streaks as red hot attacks have fueled their success.
Sanfrecce have recently unearthed a new goalscorer in Nassim Ben Khalifa, who notched a hat trick in a 5-2 win last weekend against Cerezo's neighbors, Gamba. Coupled with the likes of Makoto Mitsuta, Tsukasa Morshima, and J1 assist leader Gakuto Notsuda, Ben Khalifa and Sanfrecce are a threat going forward from all directions and have scored 10 goals in the last three games.
The Sakura don’t have quite the same ingredients to their attack, but have had enormous product from the backline to the front; their seven goals over their last three victories have been scored by seven different names. Everyone from Aussie striker Adam Taggart to Croatian centerback Matej Jonjić is getting in on the goalscoring action and that makes Cerezo a very difficult team to defend against.
Both teams' managers, Michael Skibbe in Hiroshima and Akio Kogiku in Osaka, have successfully, and perhaps unexpectedly, revitalized their sides in short order with revamped attacking verve. Sanfrecce are only four points off the top, putting them squarely in the title chase. And Cerezo may be back in sixth place, but they are only two points off of the Viola with two matches in hand, putting them in position to leap as high as second with a win this weekend.
Now, the question is: Who will come out on top this weekend and continue to climb the table?