Avispa Fukuoka arrived in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE like most newly promoted clubs - focused on staying in the top flight. But their goals have gotten much bigger than that nearly halfway through the campaign, with their eyes now focused on qualification for the AFC Champions League.
The terrific play of the first-division newbies has seen them climb all the way to fifth in J1, just one place out of the top four that would send them onto improbable continental qualification.
Yet, for all of Fukuoka’s excellence, they have yet to get a win over a top-six team. Their success has largely come on the back of beating clubs from the bottom of the table, and if they want to get into the top four, they’re going to have to beat some of the league’s better sides.
Enter, Vissel Kobe.
The J.LEAGUE’s sixth-place team offers Avispa a chance to take a win from a top side, but Vissel are traveling to Fukuoka also vying for a Champions League place, with a win this weekend moving them into fifth place and onto the heels of the top four.
For all their noteworthy attacking players, the key to Vissel’s strong start to this season has been a stingy defense that is allowing just one goal per game. Daiya Maekawa and one of the league's better-performing backlines will ask a lot of a Fukuoka attack that doesn’t necessarily have a go-to goalscorer.
Bruno Mendes leads Avispa in attacking production with just four goals, and this is not a team that expects a star to help them make something out of nothing. However, where Avispa do excel is in team buildup, especially on the counter, and finding runners who can come from anywhere. Combine that with some fine set piece work and they have an attack that can cause some real trouble for opposing defenses.
Will that attack generate enough to keep their sights set on the top four? Or will Vissel’s rearguard hold firm, and then lean on the likes of Andrés Iniesta and Kyogo Furuhashi to snatch a win on the road? Find out this weekend in the MEIJI YASUDA J1 LEAGUE.