Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Kashima Antlers collide on Saturday as J.League leaders Vissel Kobe face an in-form Diego Forlan with Cerezo Osaka.
The Uruguay striker, whose brilliance had merely flickered since he signed a J.League record contract earlier this year, hit a superb winner as Cerezo upset big-spending Shandong Luneng and pipped their opponents to a place in the AFC Champions League knockout phase on Wednesday.
Coach Ranko Popovic described Forlan’s performance in China as “fantastic” and will entrust the 34-year-old with earning Cerezo a first league win in five games in Kobe.
Vissel, who head Sanfrecce on goal difference, will charge a South American veteran of their own with securing them a fifth successive victory. Brazilian striker Marquinhos, the 38-year-old at his seventh Japanese club, has been on target in his last four appearances.
Japanese champions Sanfrecce eked out a defeat of Central Coast Mariners in midweek to reach the AFC Champions League last 16 for the first time.
Having gone five games unbeaten against fourth-placed Kashima in all competitions, Hajime Moriyasu’s men will be confident in a duel between clubs that have, between them, taken five of the past seven J.League crowns.
Urawa Reds and Sagan Tosu, who visit mid-table Kashiwa Reysol and fourth-bottom Nagoya Grampus, are also among the five teams who could finish the weekend on top.
Eighth-placed Kawasaki Frontale and lowly Gamba Osaka encounter in a traditionally thrilling fixture, with its last six instalments producing an average of 5.5 goals per game. Gamba have won the last three, but Kawasaki veteran Kengo Nakamura has been in sumptuous form and his team-mate Sota Nakazawa will be desperate to impress against his former employers.
Albirex Niigata, in seventh, have conceded just five times in eight games – fewer than any other J.League team – but have scored just six, which coach Masaaki Yanagishita attributes to his players’ selfishness.
“Far too of my players are looking to be the hero,” he said. “In training we work on looking for team-mates in good positions, but we have to start applying that in matches.”
Albirex will nevertheless be confident of finding the net at Tokushima Vortis, who have conceded 26 goals in eight straight losses.
Elsewhere, Yokohama F Marinos will look to respond from AFC Champions League elimination by winning for the first time in six league games at home to a Tokyo side one place beneath them in 12th, while Omiya Ardija entertain fellow strugglers Ventforet Kofu.
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