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Saturday, March 8, 2008

J. LEAGUE 2008


Gamba Osaka

Staff writer

Last season: third

Urawa Reds' late meltdown last season largely drew attention away from how good an opportunity Gamba had to clinch the championship for itself.

The 2005 champion would have regained the title with a more decisive final push, but three insipid draws from its last three games put Gamba's challenge to rest while Kashima Antlers took full advantage.

Coach Akira Nishino was not helped by star striker Magno Alves walking out on the club with just those three games remaining, and the disgraceful nature of his departure was the final blow for a side already facing an uphill battle for the championship.

But Nishino is nothing if not a clever operator in the transfer market, and he has again chosen well by signing a low-profile yet ruthlessly efficient Brazilian striker in FC Tokyo's Lucas.

An aging defense was also in need of fresh blood, but while Hiroki Mizumoto and Mineiro are classy signings, the club will miss the experience of veteran Sidiclei, who has moved to Kyoto.

Gamba's strength lies with a no-nonsense attitude that allows players such as Hideo Hashimoto, Tomokazu Myojin and Takahiro Futagawa to go about their business while lesser J. League players are feted to the heavens.

Yasuhito Endo remains the key man, however, and at 28 years old, the national team stalwart will be aiming to stamp his name all over the campaign and get his hands on the J. League Player of the Year Award for the first time.

Even though Kashima is the defending champion, Gamba looks best-equipped to give Urawa a run for its money.

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