Mainz - An intriguing contest boasting a healthy dose of Far Eastern spice brings Matchday 24 to a close as 1. FSV Mainz 05 entertain Hertha Berlin on Sunday (kick-off 16:30 GMT/ 17:30 GMT).
Between them, Japan international striker and South Korean duo and have helped propel the 05ers firmly into this season's European equation, with Hertha's proving no less of a hit in the capital.
Okazaki, for one, took his fine domestic form onto the international stage in midweek, notching a brace in Japan's 4-2 win over New Zealand. The 27-year-old has come on leaps and bounds since trading VfB Stuttgart for Mainz, scoring almost as many goals (nine) in 22 Bundesliga appearances for his current employers as he managed over the entire course of a two-year spell at the Mercedes-Benz Arena (ten).
The Japanese star's lung-busting efforts have been central to the Karnivalsverein's under-the-radar ascent of the league ladder in 2013/14, with Thomas Tuchel's charges starting the weekend in sixth, occupying one of two UEFA Europa League places on offer and trailing fourth-placed FC Schalke 04 by just four points following last Saturday's demonstrative 1-0 win away to third-placed Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
'Level playing field'
"When you travel to face Schalke or Leverkusen, it’s clear that you go there as the underdog and have to play beyond your capabilities," Tuchel explained. "I expect us to be on a level playing field against a technically good, compact and hard-running Hertha side. They’re an experienced side with a few characters in there too. [Adrian] Ramos is in perhaps the form of his life. Then there are players like [Per] Skjelbred and Hosogai."
Hertha travel to Mainz only two points worse off than Sunday's hosts, to an extent picking up where they left off en route to the 2012/13 Bundesliga 2 title. The summer addition of midfield guardian Hosogai has certainly helped their cause, the former Leverkusen man having started all 23 of their top-flight assignments so far this season, laying on four assists in the process.
'Our best player'
"Hajime always demands a lot of himself and the team," said Hertha head coach Jos Luhukay. "You have to be really fit and physically strong to be able to recuperate and play in the Bundesliga two or three days after jetting off with the international team. I think that has a bit to do with the Japanese mentality. I hope Hajime plays like he has done recently. He's been our best player of late."
On the subject of air miles, international breaks and general player fitness, Luhukay confirmed that he will have to do without waylaid trio Fabian Lustenberger, Tolga Cigerci and Änis Ben-Hatira, but expects Per Skjelbred and Nico Schulz to be fit for Sunday's "tough" trip to the Coface Arena.
Mainz: Karius - Pospech, Bell, Noveski, Park - Geis, Soto - Moritz, Koo, N. Müller - Okazaki
Hertha: Kraft - Pekarik, S. Langkamp, Kobiashvili, J. van den Bergh - Hosogai, Skjelbred - M. Ndjeng, N. Schulz - Allagui, Ramos
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