From the 27th June until the 7th August, I will be leaving these English shores for my first ever trip to Japan, more specifically the best city Osaka, for a 6 week “holiday” involving sight-seeing, improving my Japanese language skills, meeting new people and of course, watching Gamba Osaka on their (or should I say OUR) way back to J1. This trip will have an effect on my work on the blog and the podcast, so I wanted to let you all know what can do whilst I am in Japan!
Before all that, I might as well tell you which games I will be going to and ones that I should be able to go to will be marked with (***).
29th June – Gamba Osaka v Tokushima Vortis
3rd July – FC Gifu v Gamba Osaka
6th July – FC Tokyo v Sanfrecce Hiroshima
7th July – JEF United Chiba v Gamba Osaka
10th July – Cerezo Osaka v Yokohama F.Marinos ***
14th July – Gamba Osaka v Giravanz Kitakyushu
17th July – Cerezo Osaka v Sagan Tosu
20th July – Gamba Osaka v Vissel Kobe
3rd August – Cerezo Osaka v Ventforet Kofu ***
4th August – Fagiano Okayama v Gamba Osaka ***
The Cerezo v Yokohama match is marked as I do not know if I can be bothered to go and see them play as I am not much a fan of Yokohama, even if they do have Nakamura and Nakazawa, and Cerezo are Pigs. The games in August all depend on if I can afford to go to Okayama and get a ticket – if I fail to do so, I will go and watch the Pigs lose to Kofu. As for the Tokyo v Hiroshima match, I am in and around Tokyo for 3-4 days and I like these 2 teams so I thought I would take my chance to see them. The only Gamba game I will definitely not be going to is the away match against Tokyo Verdy, simply because it is bloody expensive to travel there without buying another JR Rail Pass, which I certainly cannot afford.
With all this travelling and football, as well as doing the standard tourist stuff, my output on this blog and the podcast will probably be reduced. Nevertheless, I still vow to get the match previews and reports online before and after each match, although they might be a bit more condensed than usual. As for the podcast, I still want to keep that going too but depending on my time availability, I might have to put 2 games into 1 (like Gifu and JEF as they are during the same week) or shorten them a bit to make the most of my time in Japan.
I am determined to keep my end of the deal on all this blogging and podcast recording. The only thing I cannot do is the commentary of games that I do on Twitter, neither can I tweet streams. What I can do is take lots of photos to make up for all of that! One day, I hope all of you can get a chance to have my experiences in Japan.
I will keep you all up to date with my footballing travels in Japan if I can, probably via Twitter and Facebook if not the blog. The final game before I leave is this weekend’s home match against Fagiano Okayama. Then I get to see Leandro and Ienaga’s last match whilst Usami and Rocha join for the vital derby against Vissel Kobe. Excellent stuff and extremely exciting.
Thank you for your understanding of this matter.
Yet another professional performance ensured that we came away from Mito with all 3 points and the 3rd clean sheet in a row in a 2-0 victory with goals from Leandro and a first ever professional goal from Kenya Okazaki which saw our winning run extend to 6 matches whilst our lead at the top was also extended. 10,025 people turned-up at K’s Denki Stadium in what was the 2nd highest attendance at the ground for a Mito match.
The hosts changed their line-up from a 4-4-2 system to a 4-2-3-1 formation. They brought in Kondo at right-back, meaning that Ishigami shifted into midfield in place of Yuto Suzuki and striker Yamamura was replaced by Shimada. The final change came at left-back where Wako was replaced by Omoto. It looked like they had decided to defend and counter attack, trying to limit us in our possession play and leave it up to veteran Suzuki to lead the line up top.
Gamba on the other hand made one change from the team that started against Giravanz Kitakyushu, with Kenya Okazaki being replaced by 35 year old Tomokazu Myojin. I think it was a very unfair change because Kenya has been doing excellently well in the starting eleven since Endo left for National Team duty. Nevertheless, Myojin added some experience to the midfield that Okazaki is lacking and he does need games still after his recent injury. Leandro had managed to shrug-off his broken/fractured left hand, playing with no bandages on that hand and he once led the line with Shu Kurata in close support. The only other change came on the substitute bench where Shota Kawanishi was replaced by Shoki Hirai. The constant changing from on the bench to off it between the two is baffling at times.
Mito HollyHock XI – Homma, Kondo, Hosokawa, Tomita, Omoto, Ishigami, Nishioka, Ozawa, Hashimoto, Shimada, Suzuki T.
Mito HollyHock Subs – Iwadate, Kim, Wako, Suzuki Y, Yamamura, Namba, Mishima.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Ienaga, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Takei, Okazaki, Paulinho, Hirai.
The game started in a slow fashion but it was clear to see that Mito were attempting to press us high up the pitch but we were simply too good for them, getting the ball around the back, keeping possession and being patient with it. Naturally, we had the first decent chance of the game as Akihiro Ienaga fired over the bar from 25 yards or so after some lovely possession play down the middle and right, ending with a flick by Kurata to the right midfielder. It was comfortably over the bar but a clean strike nevertheless.
Mito were looking to counter attack and they won a free kick on the half-way line through Shimada which signalled their downfall. The kick was cleared easily by the defence and we eventually got it over to the right side through Shu Kurata to Ienaga. He bided his time until Kurata got close to him where the ball was squared to our number 6 and he played a pass to the overlapping Akira Kaji who came down the touchline unnoticed. He looked up and sent in a cross to the back post towards Futagawa. He made a run to the near post which was splendid as he dragged his marker with him, creating the space for Leandro to move to the back post and he made no mistake this week, heading back across goal and past the undefended Homma in goal to make it 1-0 in the 10th minute. A swift counter attacking goal created by Futagawa’s genius run. No surprise that we took the lead in the match early for the 3rd game in a row.
The next 5 minutes came as a period of consolidation of the goal as we looked comfortable, passing the ball around and enjoying our football with Mito simply going nowhere. After around a minute of pure passing by Gamba, Ienaga slid a ball into the box for Kurata but there was too much pace on it. The build-up was excellent. Takaharu Nishino picked up his 3rd booking of the season after he fouled Suzuki in what would be a constant battle throughout the match which made me twitchy to say the least. That free kick from 20 yards was sent miles over the bar by Hashimoto. They continued to press but we made getting the ball from the back to midfield under high pressure look simple yet the next best chance came to the hosts in the 19th minute as Ozawa span the defence on the right and crossed towards Suzuki but he failed to get contact under minimal pressure. The hosts had their tails up though and only two minutes later they robbed Myojin in midfield and Nishioka dummied a shot to fool the midfielder but he shot well over from range. Another shot 2 minutes later with the same, non-threatening result.
We got back into the swing of things as we pressed high and Ienaga founded Kurata just inside the With Leandro and Kurata reunited up top, they linked superbly but somehow failed to score. The Brazilian got into the box on the right and went towards goal but was crowded by the defence and goalkeeper and instead of shooting at a reasonable angle, he squared to Kurata but his slide-in shot was deflected past the post, with the resulting corner from Paulinho finding Niwa unmarked at the back post but he only just missed the post as he hit the side netting. Down the other end and Shimada won another corner but the header won at the near post was flicked well wide of the far post. Suzuki copied Shimada to win another corner but the same thing happened, with the near post header going wide once more.penalty area but his shot was scuffed from 12 yards. In the 25th minute, the swing of things got violent as Ienaga went for a header at ground level and was booted in the head which caused heavy bleeding and a huge bandage (nothing like Mummy Endo from the Kashiwa match last season). Kurata shifted to the right and Mito could only force a corner on the left through Shimada as Kaji defended superbly against him all day. Myojin was flattened from the second cross but there had already been a handball before he got knocked down. Shimada did the same thing 2 minutes later as Paulinho rushed on in place of the fatally wounded Ienaga.
The last 5 minutes of the half were pretty calm with Mito being culled. We had some great possession in the final third for a fair while from right to left and back with the move ending with Fujiharu blazing well wide from 18 yards, but again the football was really enjoyable. He was however booked for the first time this season after apparently taking too long at a throw in, whilst Shu Kurata had a shot blocked after fantastic running and passing by Paulinho. We ended the half in the lead and although Mito had got some decent half chances, that was all they were, half chances. We allowed them to do that a bit too much and a second goal sooner rather than later would have given us the security we needed. Our football was fantastic when we were given the chance and that little bit of quality from Futagawa, Kaji and Leandro was the difference.
The second half started with Nishino waging war with Suzuki once more and having me worried that he would be sent off sooner rather than later. You could tell that Suzuki was starting to get frustrated and annoyed which would go against him later on. With little action in the first 10 minutes of the half, this was about as pending as it got. Saying that, Fujigaya did excellently to claim a catch from a corner and Leandro went extremely close with a stunning volley from the right side of the 6 yard box, his right foot flying onto a cross from the left by Fujiharu but the volley went just over the bar.
The game seemed to be lacking some real flair and creativity which was apparent in the next 10 minutes. Ishigami blazed high and wide from an acute angle, Suzuki and Nishino continued to battle on with the youngster winning that round whilst Niwa was denied superbly by Homma from a Futagawa corner after Leandro tried a chipped pass to our number 10. Homma raced off his line to meet Niwa at 10 yards or so and blocked the header with his hand just after it left Daiki’s forehead. 3 minutes later in the 67th minute, Paulinho went for his standard 30 yard screamer and found the standard row Z.
A minute later, Kondo won a corner for the hosts and a bit of a non-threatening scramble ensued but the ball went out for a goal kick. Niwa’s only mistake came when Suzuki robbed him and with choices in the box, he managed only to pick out a Gamba player which summed up his day. Tomita took out Kurata on the counter attack and then Suzuki was booked for fouling Uchida (and about time too). With less than 20 minutes to go, Paulinho did brilliantly to win a free kick from Ishigami around 30 yards from goal after bursting through a couple of tackles but his shot was saved down low by Homma. Nishioka then had a chance for the hosts but could only miss-hit the shot. Matsumoto then chipped over the bar with Fujigaya never looking worried.
In the 77th minute, Leandro was substituted for Okazaki as he was taken off by a stretcher but he was not injured whilst the hosts brought on striker Mishima for defender Kondo 2 minutes later after Ozawa headed well wide from 18 yards. The hosts were pressing for the equaliser with the bumper crowd urging them on, but Paulinho, Niwa and Fujigaya all defended superbly even though we could not get out of our own half.
It looked as though Hasegawa was looking to defend the 1-0 lead as he prepared Oh to come on for Futagawa but Okazaki had bigger and better ideas as he made it 2-0 with a brilliant strike. We pushed out of defence and went down the left with Fujiharu making it to the corner flag. He looked back to find Paulinho who aimed a pass square to Kurata but he let it run to Okazaki. Shu’s run made some space for the youngster to take a touch and having spotted Homma on his 6 yard box, he chipped a shot over the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the goal to secure all 3 points and to get his first goal as a professional footballer. An exquisite goal.
That sub of Oh for Futagawa did happen with Mito bringing on Namba for Nishioka even though the game was dead. The action was not over though as Suzuki was given a straight red card for swinging an arm at Niwa after the pair had challenged for a high ball in our half. The rules state that raising your arms means you are walking a line and the referee has no hesitations in taking the card out immediately (ignoring that the striker had already been booked) and Suzuki himself had no complaints. It was a poor challenge and surprisingly it was not Nishino who copped the blow. A deserved sending off.
That was how the game ended. A bit of controversy in what was a game lacking quality in the second half but we did brilliantly to keep the well-supported hosts at bay. Both goals had real quality in them and highlighted once again the difference between Gamba and our opponents. The defence was solid and even though our frontline was not as fluid as it has been, we took 2 very well made chances superbly. Mito never had a truly threatening attempt on goal and without Endo and Konno, we are just getting better game by game.
Man of the Match:
Once again it is another tough call as many players did their jobs well without having too much attacking proficiency just like last week. Akihiro Ienaga turned up and was excellent before his head injury forced him off with his replacement Paulinho almost snatching this award as he linked well with the other players, worked immensely hard and showed his abilities in his hour showing. But for me Daiki Niwa and Akira Kaji were solid it at the back, the former repelling their not very threatening attacks as well as having a couple of chances to score too and the latter doing the same in defence and assisting the first goal. Niwa has been excellent in these last 3 games and was in charge at the back whilst Nishino was getting too tight to Suzuki. He has really impressed me and shown that he does have some quality when he is not being erratic. Right now, he has hit top form and I am enjoying watching him. As for Kaji, he had to stop Shimada who was full of beans and he did that to perfection, whilst his cross for Leandro’s goal was perfect. A captain’s performance and the joint strength between these two defenders made the difference when we were repelling those Mito forays. Well done boys!
Where it leaves both teams:
There were a total of 39 goals in Round 19 of J.League Division 2 on a marvellous weekend at the top for us as we extended our lead at the top to 4 points over Vissel Kobe after they drew 2-2 with Tochigi SC. Our gap to V-Varen Nagasaki in 3rd stayed at 7 points after the Kyushu outfit bounced back from their defeat to FC Gifu with a 2-1 home victory over Tokyo Verdy. Kyoto Sanga were the biggest winners in the bottom half of the top 6 after they won 4-1 over Ehime FC.
After them, nobody from 5th to 11th won a game in what was a lost chance for all the teams to push themselves into the top 6. Consadole Sapporo and Tokushima Vortis pressured the other teams as they won in the earliest 2 games of the weekend which meant Mito slipped down to 14th. The bottom of the table had one crazy day with Giravanz Kitakyushu destroying Roasso Kumamoto 7-0 at home whilst FC Gifu came from behind to beat Gainare Tottori 4-3 on the road to move off of the bottom of the table with back-to-back wins. ThespaKusatsu Gunma almost denied this but conceded a last-minute equaliser against Montedio Yamagata after being 2-0 up to draw 2-2.
★★★ Amazing J! ★★★
We learnt about the news that none of us fans wanted to hear today, as Leandro and Akihiro Ienaga will not be staying at the club beyond the end of their loans, which end on the 30th June. Their final game will be against Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku. Brazilian striker Adi Rocha has been signed already to take over Leandro’s boots in what has been a hectic day for transfer news.
Let’s start with Leandro. We all knew that he wanted to stay with Gamba, stating that he was happy where he is with his family and he was enjoying his football at Banpaku. He returned to the club last summer following stints at Qatari sides Al-Sadd and Al-Rayyan. He was forced out of Al-Sadd after they signed Spanish giant Raul and he soon found comfort in his old employers.
During his time at Gamba for the second time, he scored an exception 28 goals in 36 games in all competitions but he was unable to save us from our inevitable drop from J1 last season. Gamba scored a total of 89 goals in all competitions during his yearlong stay at the club to date, scoring 24.92% of our goals in that time. His goal to game ratio comes in at 1 goal to every 1.29 games. He has been absolutely wonderful for us and to say we will miss him is an understatement. It will strange watching Gamba take on FC Gifu for the first time without him.
The question is where will he go now? Technically speaking he will have to go back to Al-Sadd, but that will more than likely be a brief stop (if a stop at all) before he heads on to a new team. Vissel Kobe are supposedly sniffing around, trying to lure him back to our rivals as they are favourites to land him on a loan deal. Teams like Cerezo Osaka, Nagoya Grampus and FC Tokyo, surely amongst others, are rumoured to be keeping an eye on the situation with the hope of stealing the forward.
All I can say is “Thank You” to Leandro for his goals, work rate, desire, passion and love for the club. It is a shame we could not keep you but you will stay in hearts of many fans for many years to come. Your smiling face after scoring will be the biggest loss.
It also comes with regret for me to write that Akihiro Ienaga will also be leaving the club after joining the club at the same time as Leandro did half-way through the 2012 season. He scored 7 goals in 35 games in all competitions, including a goal against the Pigs in the Emperor’s Cup last season. His only goal this season was a spectacular one at that, a volley against Consadole Sapporo in a 3-1 away win. We have often questioned his attitude this season as he is undoubtedly a top player who, on his day, could destroy any team. He came from Mallorca of Spain after a brief stop in South Korea, playing for Ulsan Hyundai, before he returned to his original club.
There will surely be a whole bunch of teams wanting his signature because there is no doubting his talent. Rumours have suggested a team in Australia has made him an offer as it is very unlikely that he will fit into Mallorca’s plans. Wherever he goes, he can definitely be a success if his heart is in it.
To Aki, you have dazzled us at times with your nonchalant touches, top goals but also frustrated us with your lacklustre performances and bad attitude. Nevertheless, we would rather you have stayed than left and in recent weeks you have been great. The only saving grace is that Takashi Usami will be home soon to fill the void you leave. Take care on your next adventure. Thank you!
Leandro and Ienaga will make their final bows as Gamba Osaka players against Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku on 29th June. I will fortunately be there and I might shed a tear or two in their final game. They still have 2 more matches to show us their best and sign-off on a high note. Fagiano Okayama and Tokushima Vortis should be quaking in their boots, given that Leandro and Ienaga will give us one final push on our path back home.
Joined with the news that Leandro and Ienaga would not be staying was the news that 27 year-old Brazilian striker Adi Rocha, full name Adi Rocha Sobrinho Filho, would be joining the team on a full transfer in what will be a like-for-like move that will cover Leandro’s departure and he will also probably take over the number 9 shirt. Rocha will join from Romanian Liga 1 side Steaua Bucharest.
He has spent the bulk of his professional career in Europe with stints in Austria, Germany and of course Romania. He spent the 2007-08 season at LASK Linz, scoring just 2 goals in 19 appearances, with most of his time being spent on the bench, forcing him to make a move to Austria Kärnten where he played in 16 league matches and he was able to net 10 goals, allowing his team to finish ahead of his former employers LASK. He then moved to Energie Cottbus during the winter transfer window of the same 2008-09 season and was there for 2 and a half seasons but only managed 1 appearance after suffering from a persistent cartilage injury which he picked up in his first game for the club.
He found his home in Romania with Concordia Chiajna in 2012 as he helped his new side finish 9th in their first season in the league via promotion, where Adi netted 8 goals in 15 appearances in the league. He started all of those 15 matches and looked to have gotten over his injury problems. His impressive play earned him a move to the other team in Bucharest, and big boys Steaua, where he followed his manager from Concordia to the eventual winners of Liga 1 in 2013. Adi started only 11 games adding to 5 substitute appearances, but managed to find the net 9 times. Being out of favour at the Champions of Romania meant that he let his contract run down and will now come to Osaka to find his place once more.
This must have been the back-up plan that Gamba had made if Leandro’s loan was either not extended or if his loan was not turned into a permanent move. Rocha’s contract was coming to an end at Steaua and this free transfer should be a worthwhile one. Nevertheless, you can look at our squad and see that we have more than enough options with Paulinho, Hirai, Kawanishi, Sato and Hoshihara all strikers, whilst Shu Kurata and Takashi Usami can easily be support strikers. The number 99 of Steaua will do well to succeed at Banpaku but with short videos on YouTube showing that he does have some speed, strength, height and an eye for goal, it might just be a top signing after all. Only time will tell.
Rocha can join training from Tuesday (18th June) which will give him time to get to know his future team-mates until 19th July, which will be the day he can finally join the squad rota, with his first match a potentially being the Kansai Derby against Kobe at Banpaku a day later. I am hoping that he can be a real success and make us almost forget Leandro. Welcome to Banpaku Adi, and ガンバってください！
Having been made to work hard down to our lack of a finishing touch, we came away from Kyushu last time out with a 1-0 victory and now head on the road once more to K’s Denki Stadium in Mito to take on the perennial mid-table side Mito HollyHock, with a local kick-off time of 18:00. Having amassed 5 straight victories confidence should be at its highest and another 3 points is what will be expected for our lads once more.
The hosts come into this game off the back of a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Tokyo Verdy, who have the best defence in the league but simply find it hard to score goals. Mito could only muster 2 shots on target throughout the match and were dominated possession-wise but they held on for the point. That made their away form 3-3-3 in terms of wins, draws and defeats and this now matches their home form.
Yet it is the home form that we want to look at the most given that this game is held at Mito’s home stadium. They got off to a bad start at home this season, picking up just 4 points from 9 in what were winnable games against Gunma and Ehime in particular, but they did beat Toyama. They then suffered at the hands of Matsumoto Yamaga but then bounced back with a smash-and-grab 2-0 victory over JEF United. This was followed by 2 draws against Yokohama and Nagasaki, then an expected 4-1 win over FC Gifu. Their last home game came against Vissel Kobe who ran out 2-0 winners in what was a very open performance by the home side and they left masses of space for the visitors to get in at ease. If they have not learnt from their mistakes in that game, then I would be very surprised but very happy.
Looking at the head-to-head form between Mito and Gamba is very interesting. There have been 3 meetings in total with all of them being at Banpaku in the Emperor’s Cup. The first tie was in 2001 when Gamba won 5-0 with Takahiro Futagawa being one of the goal scorers that day. The next meeting did not come until 2011 with Mito winning 3-2 at Banpaku in extra-time with current players T. Suzuki and Ozawa getting on the score sheet. We did not have to wait long to inflict revenge as we again met in the 3rd round of the cup last season, with Leandro netting the only goal as we went on to make it to the final.
Looking at the teams’ conditions now as we can start speculating on the starting XIs. As defenders Hiroki Kato and Ryo Shinzato are the only players being slated not to make it for the match, Mito will probably stick with a very similar starting line-up for this match. They played a 4-4-2 formation away to Verdy last week and being at home, I would expect them to have a go whilst still being cautious at the back. You can see that starting line-up from the Verdy match up to your right.
They will be hoping that Leandro is not able to make it after he broke/fractured his left hand. He was wearing a bandage last weekend against Giravanz and had to be substituted at half-time for Shota Kawanishi. The Brazilian has been training since Tuesday but Kenta Hasegawa is being careful with Leandro’s injury. You would expect that he will not start on Saturday, so the question is who would take over his spot? We all know Shoki Hirai is a natural goal scorer but he lacks the work ethic that Hasegawa likes in his teams, plus the pair do not seem to get on very well. You would have to assume that Kawanishi will get his first start of the season and that he will give 100%, like he did against Giravanz. Other than that, I would expect the team to stay the same. We might just see Keisuke Iwashita back on the bench after he participated in a training match last Sunday but we do not want him to rush back.
As for my player to watch, if I knew that Leandro was definitely out and I knew who would replace him, I would get you to keep your eye on them. As the situation is all in the air at the moment, I have gone for Daiki Niwa as my player to watch instead. To be honest, he has been very strong in his last 2 starts and has impressed me with his no-nonsense attitude in defence and he has cut out the erratic nature of his performances. Also, he has been commanding other players at the back and is clearly enjoying his role next to young Nishino. I hope that he can continue in this golden patch of form and prove me and all the other doubters that he can step-in well for Konno and Iwashita, and maybe even take their starting spot from them. Keep up the good work, Daiki!
In terms of what I expect the result to be, I think a 2-0 away win will be on the cards for us. With or without Leandro, we should definitely have enough to take down this midfield outfit with no problems at all. Of course, it all depends on if they go for it or whether they sit back and counter-attack but we have shown the quality to get through teams like this, albeit eventually, and if we can take our chances better than last weekend, I think Mito are going to have a tough day at the office. I would expect them to make some decent chances though and we must be wary of their attacking force, particularly on the counter, and they have shown that they can give the better teams in the league a run for their money. But with 5 wins in a row and us seemingly enjoying our football, I have (and so should you) full confidence that we can come away from Mito with all 3 points.
Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.
A dogged performance by our boys in white and blue ensured that we came away from Kyushu for the final time this season with all 3 points in what turned out to be a match relating very much to the statistics for both teams, performance-wise. 7,207 people turned up to see the leaders of Division 2 extend their lead, with a huge part of that crowd blue and black at heart, and they sure did help the team across the line with their never-ending support.
Both sides named unchanged starting elevens as they both won in round 17 and therefore felt as if they needed to change nothing. Gamba were of course without Konno and Endo but Niwa and Okazaki were glad to take those spots at the start of the game once more. There was one change on our bench though as Shoki Hirai was replaced with Shota Kawanishi, although both are still playing underdogs to Leandro. Iwashita made it to the training match against Ehime the day after this victory, which is great news, but the replacements have been doing fine jobs to make us almost forget Keisuke.
Giravanz lined up with a 4-4-2 formation, as did Gamba, but of course Kurata was more of a supporting player to Leandro up top than a striker.
Giravanz Kitakyushu XI – Takeda, Miyamoto, Watanabe, Maeda, Fuji, Morimura, Ahn, Hakkaku, Kotegawa, Oshima, Ikemoto.
Giravanz Kitakyushu Subs – Matsumoto T, Matsumoto Y, Suzuki, Naito, Watari, Kim, Kakimoto.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Ienaga, Uchida, Okazaki, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Myojin, Takei, Paulinho, Kawanishi.
The hosts got the ball rolling in their lovely yellow and red home uniform but it had to be retaken. Woops. There was a very early break in play as Uchida was winded by the ball within 13 seconds of the start. The home side were looking to pass the ball around, as were Gamba, with the away team doing a better job of it. The first half chance came to Leandro but his control was poor from a Kurata cross. It was Kurata who opened the door within 5 minutes to give Gamba the lead. After some lovely passing from defence to midfield, Kaji crossed from around 35 yards out on the right towards Leandro who had made a run into the box. Takeda just got to it ahead of the Brazilian as the ball came out to around 30 yards in a central position, slightly to the right. As the ball bounced, Kaji steamed in to win the header of the Giravanz man with the ball beating the next Giravanz player and flicking off Ienaga. The ball came to Kurata around 22 yards from goal where he lost his marker with a smart dummy to open some space in the opposite direction to fire an absolutely beautiful left foot strike hard and flat towards the bottom left corner of the goal, giving Takeda the chance to only brush it in with his fingers. Shu was ecstatic and it was just the start we needed – at this point, we were hoping to build on that goal with just 5 minutes of the game gone.
It indeed looked like only we were going to score again from this point on as we controlled possession and seemed comfortable with Giravanz lacking pressure on our defence. In the 9th minute, after said passing play, we added a bit of speed to it down the left as Futagawa came off the touchline to send a pass from Uchida down the line to Fujiharu who whipped in a delightful ball to Leandro. He has ghosted between the centre back and left back to get a free header on goal from 8 yards yet he somehow managed to put it over the top when you would have banked on him to find the net. The high pressing on Giravanz continued whenever we gave the ball away which really limited the hosts. Even in the 14th minute when Giravanz did press us into an error to get on the counter attack from the half way line, Niwa used his body smartly to get in-between the player and the ball to win a free kick and end any danger.
The hosts started to get into the game from this point without too much action in the next 5 minutes. In the 18th minute, the hosts had made some nice passing patterns but were forced back into their own half thanks to Kurata and Leandro. After Giravanz pushed further, we broke away through Kurata who found Leandro down the middle and he attempted to chip Takeda from 25 yards but the keeper was just about in the right position to claw it away. The hosts’ first shot came in the 24th minute as Hakkaku fired from around 27 yards straight into Fujigaya’s welcoming arms. Giravanz also got their first and only booking of the match as Fuji was cautioned after Ienaga tried a one-two with Leandro but was halted in his path.
Giravanz won a free kick in the 26th minute as Okazaki was just beaten to the ball by Ikemoto, 30 yards from goal, but left-back Fuji could only allow Fujigaya to watch the ball go comfortably past his post. Uchida then tried his luck for Gamba this time from 25 yards but he sent it into space – nevertheless, we seemed to get back into the groove for the time being as we retained possession for around 2 minutes but it did result in Shu Kurata slipping and hurting his ankle in what was worrying times at that point, but he did make it back onto the pitch unharmed after some treatment. What was harmed more than Kurata was Giravanz’s crossbar as Futagawa cracked the top of it from the left edge of the penalty area, curling the ball after lovely play between himself, Ienaga and Fujiharu.
The final part of the half saw Fujigaya having to make a decent low save from Miyamoto in the 37th minute as he cut inside and onto his left foot from right back. Futagawa also copied Uchida’s previous attempt as he fired well over from a similar position in the 43rd minute which made you feel that another goal would kill off the hosts. The first half was nonetheless excellent and we bossed it; with a bit more luck or composure, we would have had a bigger lead in the match but as we had not done this, it left Giravanz with hope for the second half.
What would have given Giravanz even more hope at the start of the second half was seeing no Leandro. He was substituted at half time for Shota Kawanishi. One can only assume that his injured hand that he came into the match with had got worse as he did not seem injured before the interval. Underestimating Kawanishi would have been a bad idea as he was eager to make his mark early on. The hosts did get an early corner before all this but it was swatted away at the near post. Kurata then got onto a Kawanishi flick in the 48th minute but he dragged his volley well wide of the far post, shooting from just inside the box. Kawanishi then won a free kick on the left touchline but Fujiharu’s resulting shot was blocked.
Giravanz were pressing a lot better in the second half, trying to suffocate us going forward but that did not stop us making some chances. In the 55th minute, we countered following a Giravanz corner with the ball coming down the left and into the middle with Kurata, whose shot was blocked due to the sheer number of defenders after some lovely, fast interchanges. It took only a minute to make another chance as Ienaga played a one-two with Kurata on the right where he fired a cross-cum-shot across goal but it was too fast for Kawanishi at the near post and Futagawa at the back post. Lovely football though. Lovely football indeed.
The hosts brought on Naito for Morimura just before the hour mark in a like-for-like change as the game started to stretch and open up, just as Ikemoto fired wide from 25 yards. Kurata won a free kick on the right, which was whipped towards Nishino at the back post as he nodded it back across goal to Uchida who stretched to get his head on it but he hit the side netting. Following a corner for us, Giravanz went on the counter through Naito in the 65th minute with a 3-on-3 but Fujiharu covered superbly to block his shot. This allowed us to break, ending with Okazaki’s tame shot being blocked and it rolled gently to Takeda. Kakimoto came on for Oshima in the 67th minute whilst Okazaki was replaced by Myojin 2 minutes later. In-between these changes, Kawanishi did brilliantly to relieve pressure in his own half after a couple of Giravanz crosses were dealt with.
In the 72nd minute, we countered through Kurata and Kawanishi, ending with Ienaga winning a corner. It was the latter who should have scored as Futagawa’s second cross landed on the midfielder’s head but he misses the ball completely whilst being unmarked. As Giravanz pressed for an equaliser, the defence stood strong whilst we always looked dangerous on the counter attack. Futagawa’s last contribution before being subbed for Abe in the 80th minute was to win a free kick 25 yards from goal but he only hit the top of the wall. Kim came on for Ahn for the hosts a couple of minutes before that final switch.
The hosts were threatening to threaten the goal but never really had up until the 82nd minute where Kotegawa hit the post with Fujigaya well beaten, following a cross from the right which Fuji controlled ahead of Kaji to lay off to the youngster, who fired with his left foot against the upright. The hosts continued to press and win set pieces but our defence was very strong which only let those half chances be half chances. As the hosts left bodies in attack, Abe had a shot right at Takeda saved whilst he turned provider for Ienaga as he sent in a cross from the left to our number 41 at the back post. He was in space but instead of taking a touch, he decided on a volley which went well wide. Added time was spent mainly by the corner flags as Ienaga and Abe allowed the clock to tick down and the 3 points were secured. It was not a dazzling performance but Giravanz were kept at arm’s length for the majority of the match whilst our forward line wasted a few decent chances. Nevertheless, we fully deserved the win and played excellent football for the majority of the match and always seemed to be a threat on the counter attack. We did not make it easy for ourselves but we did a top job, as did Giravanz who put in everything but simply lack some top quality players. There should be no complaints about the performances as we got the job done, ensuring our 5th straight win and our 2nd clean sheet in a row.
Man of the Match:
I have had to have long think about this one because there were many stand-out performers as most players did their jobs well. I think Akira Kaji and Takaharu Nishino were excellent at the back, especially Nishino, who kept Giravanz at arm’s length for the majority of the match, whilst Kaji was sound at right-back, whilst Niwa was seen controlling the defence at times. Akihiro Ienaga put in a great shift and should have scored, whilst the youthful centre of our team was very strong once more. Shu Kurata just beats them all as my choice, not only because he got the goal, but he was also the biggest threat going forward and worked his socks off at all times. People might think I am biased towards Kurata as he is one of my favourite players but he did everything we now expect of him and more. He almost led the team from the front and linked brilliantly with every single other player – when your team is not finishing the game off, you need players like Kurata. It is almost second nature to see him like this but his determination and hard work made it a lot easier on his defence. Everything starts from the front and he epitomised that and his goal was just wonderful. Shu Kurata, I LOVE YOU.
Where it leaves both teams:
It was another excellent weekend for Gamba as we added another goal to our superior goal difference over Vissel Kobe, but we also made 1st place decisively our own as Vissel could only draw 2-2 at home to a Kempes inspired JEF United. Things got better for Gamba, and worse for Giravanz, as FC Gifu pulled their second victory of the season from nowhere against V-Varen Nagasaki at the Nagaragawa Stadium, netting the winner with the 100% last touch of the game in a fully deserved victory. This made the gap between Gamba and V-Varen 7 points, meaning we have a comfortable cushion in the automatic promotion places. Teams from 6th to 11th are a win/defeat away from swapping places. At the other end, Giravanz’s rivals ThespaKusatsu moved within 2 points of them with a 0-0 draw with Kataller Toyama. Giravanz are 5 points away from Tottori and Yokohama FC, whilst FC Gifu are now 3 points behind our hosts for the day but with a worse goal difference.
We continue on the road to Mito on Saturday, whilst Giravanz stay at home for a Kyushu derby with Roasso Kumamoto who lost to Kyoto Sanga 3-1 on Sunday through a Kubo hat-trick for the purple visitors.
With the wind firmly in our sails with after a 3-0 win over Tochigi SC at Banpaku, Gamba now head on down to Kyushu for the final time this season to take on struggling Giravanz of said Kyushu at the Honjo Stadium for an 18:00 local time kick-off. There is a chance for us to stack 5 wins for the first time this season!
The hosts Giravanz come into this match on cloud nine after getting their first win after a 10 match winless streak since a 1-0 victory over Ehime FC on the 7th April. That was also their only home win of the season. Their victims came in the form of our big rivals Kyoto Sanga FC, who took a 1-0 lead against the 20th placed side at home, only to concede twice in the second half on Monday to lose for the 4th time this season at home. Giravanz nailed Kyoto’s coffin in the 89th minute of the match from a counter attack which sent their small pocket of supports berserk.
Giravanz and Gamba have both been undefeated since 6th May after respective losses to Consadole Sapporo and Vissel Kobe. It is Gamba who have won all their games since then, whilst Giravanz have won 1 and drew 3. Their season has been a tale of woe since their previous manager Yasutoshi Miura joined Tokyo Verdy over the winter and took with him 8 Giravanz players, although 2 have been sent away on loans. These moves have ripped the soul and taken the heart out of Giravanz who now lurk near the bottom of the table, 3 points above the drop zone, and are a completely different outfit compared to the one that finished 9th last season. 23 players have moved on whilst 19 have come in. Only 6 of the entire 2012 squad remain and they hold just 150 appearances for the 2012 season, at Giravanz, between them. With a team with just 10 players over the age of 25, you can see the difficulties the team has had in terms of experience and adjustment. It has been a tough tough time for Giravanz.
Nevertheless, they beat Kyoto Sanga on Monday and seemed very happy and confident in that match. They played some nice football and looked like they deserved the win based on the 2nd half that I saw. Their biggest problem has been their home form, having only taken 5 points from a possible 24, compared to 9 from 27 on the road. Neither is very impressive, nor is the fact they have scored only 6 goals at home this season and they have yet to net 2 goals in any home match. Furthermore, they have kept just 1 clean sheet at home all season, conceding 12. They have yet to concede more than 2 at home this season but none of the leaders of the league at this point of the season have yet to tackle them in Kyushu. They have only conceded more than 2 goals once this season, being trounced by JEF United Chiba 6-1. They are fairly tight at the back in that respect, but scoring 3 against them would almost guarantee victory.
Looking at injuries/suspensions for both teams, then it is as easy as anything to detail it. Apparently Giravanz have no injuries or bans and have a free pick of players, it seems. As for Gamba, we already know that Konno and Endo have extended their stay with the Japan National Team until at least the Tokushima Vortis match at the end of the month, whilst Keisuke Iwashita and Akihiro Sato are still not yet ready it seems. There has been no news on why Iwashita has not made it back yet, whilst Sato is getting there, step by step. Therefore, I would expect the same 11 that started against Tochigi SC.
Kenya Okazaki had a brilliant game last weekend in his first start as a professional and it will be interesting to see whether he can keep that going. That is why he is my man to watch for this match. He, Niwa and Uchida did great to fill the boots of Konno, Endo and Myojin (if we compare them to last season’s 3 starters in those positions) and this will be Kenya’s first away match as a starter (I presume that Hasegawa will play him). He showed a level head last week and was not afraid to play football against one of the better teams in the division and I am sure he will get more confidence as he continues to play. Kenta Hasegawa shocked most people with Okazaki’s inclusion over Myojin, but Kenya rightly showed us why he was picked and I am sure he can do it again against Giravanz.
The statistics may say that we should only score only 2 goals and that Giravanz might score 1, but their home games have been against easier opposition in the league. They might be riding high after their victory against Kyoto but I can see them crashing down to a 3-0 away victory for Gamba this weekend. Leandro, Kurata, Ienaga and Futagawa should squash them down whilst our first clean sheet for 5 games was a welcome return. We should simply have too much for Giravanz but they will make it hard for us and will be strong on the counter attack, if we are not disciplined enough. Nonetheless, it is hard to see anything but a Gamba win and I am sure the boys will continue on good form without Endo and Konno. I have good confidence right now, so why shouldn’t the players?!
Photo taken from stat.ameba.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.
The two big names of the team, Yasuyuki Konno and Yasuhito Endo, both achieved qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with the Japanese National Team yesterday after a 1-1 draw with Australia in some place in Saitama, supposedly home of two teams, one of them some mob of a team and the other is the current leaders of J1, Omiya Ardija. First of all, we should all congratulate our pair on their success with the Daihyo and hope that they can make Japan proud in the summer of 2014.
Nevertheless, the pair still has another qualifier to play next Tuesday (11th June) against Iraq. Furthermore, the two have been picked to represent Japan at the forthcoming Confederations’ Cup, also held in Brazil. This means that they will be representing their country until at least the 22nd June and if Japan happen to progress further from a group containing Italy, Mexico and the hosts Brazil, then there will be potentially other games on the 26th and 30th June.
This means that they will be unavailable for selection for Gamba until at least the Tokushima Vortis home match on the 29th June, although if Japan progress to the semi-finals and even the final, then they will realistically make it back for the match away to FC Gifu on the 3rd July.
We will all be supporting them on their travels to play Iraq and to Brazil and we hope they can show the world that Gamba and of course J2 do indeed have some excellent players. More importantly, we want them back as soon as possible so we want the tournament to be cancelled in Brazil or for Japan to get knocked out at the group stage! I am sure that whatever happens, Daiki Niwa and Kenya Okazaki can fill their boots – for now at least.
Photo taken from Yahoo. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.