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The 39th official meeting between Cerezo and Gamba finds both teams in far different positions than in previous encounters, with the hosts grabbing headlines worldwide

A derby anywhere in the football world is always a special occasion, and the Osaka Derby is arguably the biggest in Japan, featuring some of the country’s top stars as well as passionate supporters on both sides.

The rivalry has roots in the late 1970s, when the reserve squad of Yanmar Diesel was dissolved. Many of those players found a new home in the Matsushita Electric Industrial company team, which would eventually become Gamba Osaka in 1992. Once Cerezo joined the J-League in the 1995 season, the Osaka Derby began in earnest as each team won their respective home games. Since then, each successive match has fueled both sides’ desire to declare themselves Osaka’s best club.

“What You Got?”

That was the question aimed at Cerezo fans at the 2011 AFC Asian Champions League Round of 16, when the Gamba faithful arranged an impressively-designed tifo display. The banners, raised by a complicated pulley system in front of the Gamba end, showed the J-League trophy, the ACL trophy and the Emperor's Cup, all of which Gamba had won in the last few years preceding the match.

But while Cerezo has yet to obtain any trophies of their own, they did get the last laugh on that night through Daisuke Takahashi’s late strike. And despite such prodding from Gamba supporters, Cerezo fans never miss the chance to point out that they are the representatives of "Real Osaka.” The team are based in the metropolitan area, while Gamba’s headquarters are in the prefectural suburb of Suita. Banners and scarves attesting to this fact can be seen at every game; even Cerezo’s badge used to read “Osaka FC.”

The strength of this rivalry can even be seen at the academy level, when over 6,000 supporters turned out to watch Gamba and Cerezo’s U-18 teams contest the J-League Youth Cup.

With 38 results in the books, Gamba have the historical edge with 21 wins to Cerezo’s 12. Gamba have outscored their neighbours in a big way, with a 76 to 49 goal advantage that included a 7-1 home win in 2004 and a 6-1 win at Nagai in 2006.

In contrast, Cerezo's wins have often been by the single goal, and their biggest win was a 4-1 home victory in 1999. Yet the margin of victory has meant little to the sakura-colored faithful, who come out in droves to support their side. On Saturday they’ll be looking to avenge the last Derby result, a 2012 Emperor’s Cup loss that saw Gamba advance to that tournament’s semi-final. The “other” Osaka side would eventually play on New Year’s Day, losing 1-0 to Kashiwa Reysol just weeks after being relegated to the second division.

If the question "What you got?" were to be posed again today, Cerezo would surely have more than one way to answer. The metropolitan club has two wonderful home grounds: the majestic Yanmar Stadium, which seats 50,000, and the nearby Kincho Stadium, a football-specific venue which can host up to 20,500 spectators in a more intimate atmosphere.

Cerezo Osaka also boast alumnis such as Shinji Kagawa at Manchester United, Hiroshi Kiyotake at Nurnberg, Kim Bo-gyon at Cardiff City, and Takashi Inui at Eintracht Frankfurt; today they sport some of the best young players in Japan in Yoichiro Kakitani, Hotaru Yamaguchi, and Takumi Minamino, as well as Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan.

Although Cerezo must still catch up to their rivals when it comes to silverware, it is clear that they have outdone Gamba when it comes to producing top players and increasing their international profile; both are a result of wise club management.

So, who's better? As in most cases when it comes to such an intense local rivalry, discussion on which is the best club or the strongest team could go on forever, but in the end the decision, at least for now, will come from the pitch as the teams lock horns this Saturday in their 39th official derby.

Alan Gibson is the editor-in-chief of JSoccer Magazine. He may be found on Twitter at @JSoccerMagazine

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