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Saturday, March 8, 2008
J. LEAGUE 2008
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS
Last season: fourth
S-Pulse managed to keep touch with the leaders for more of last season than most would have predicted, without ever giving any real indication it had that extra something to push for the title.
The team has solid foundations, but the departure of South Korean striker Cho Jae Jin raises doubts as to whether the Shizuoka side can make a repeat of the previous two seasons' fourth-place finishes.
Midfielders Fernandinho and Jungo Fujimoto are a match for most J. League opponents, and coach Kenta Hasegawa has fashioned his side into a tough unit that opposing teams find hard to break down.
But a club with such a consistent record could expect bigger signings than those that have arrived during the offseason, and the muscle and aerial ability of Cho cannot be reproduced on the cheap.
Former national team striker Akinori Nishizawa, with no goals in 22 appearances last season, certainly doesn't look like capable of filling his boots.
Hasegawa has one joker in his pack. Eighteen-year-old Genki Omae was the star of this year's Japan High School tournament, and showed dynamism, invention and fearlessness as he led Ryutsu Keizai University High School to the title.
The youngster is unlikely to make his mark on the J. League this season, but if S-Pulse is to progress, it will need the cutting edge to come from somewhere.