Match Report – 31/03/2013 – J2: Section 6 – Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Gamba Osaka

Consadole SapporoGamba once again showed us the rollercoaster team that they are by giving us an impressive performance in the Sapporo Dome in front of 17,020 fans as we took 3 points on the road for the second time this season. The performance at times was mesmerising, breath-taking and overall superior to that of Consadole, who gave it their best shot with such a young squad. This meant Gamba ended their three-match drawing streak, and about time too!

Starting with the team news for Consadole – they were forced into two changes in defence after Cho was injured last weekend in their win against Avispa Fukuoka whilst Nara was sent-off in that win. So Uehara took over from Cho whilst Paulao made his first appearance for Consadole in the heart of their defence. Further forward, Uchimura forced Okamoto to the bench as he took the position in behind Maeda, although their front three behind him was very fluid.

Gamba made a few forced changes but changes we would have seen nonetheless. Endo and Konno unsurprisingly grabbed back their places from the injured Takei and Myojin, but this was expected regardless of their injuries, with the latter pairing offering little in their two games together. This meant that young Takaharu Nishino kept his spot in defence next to Keisuke Iwashita but with that added sense of security with Konno in front of them both. Further forward, Akihiro Ienaga took the place of youngster Hiroyuki Abe and he took his chance with both hands too. The front three of Gamba was also very fluid, especially Kurata and Ienaga, both of whom were important figures in the win today.

Consadole Sapporo XI: Sugiyama, Uehara, Paulao, Kushibiki, Matsumoto, Kawai, Fukai, Uesato, Uchimura, Miyazawa, Maeda.
Consadole Sapporo Subs: Awaka, Osanai, Horigome, Sunagawa, Furata, Okamoto, Tele.
Gamba Osaka XI: Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Endo, Konno, Ienaga, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs: Kimura, Niwa, Abe, Okazaki, Uchida, Paulinho, Kawanishi.

Gamba Osaka

1st Half:
Sapporo started the brighter of the two teams after Gamba got the ball rolling. Gamba sat off the opposition for the first 10 minutes or so which gave Sapporo some confidence and momentum. Their first half chance came in the 5th minute after a delicious ball from the middle of the park found Uehara in behind the Gamba defence but Fujiharu was fast to recover and defended well to concede a corner which was dealt also well dealt with. They kept the pressure on but the returning Konno decided enough was enough and pressed to win the ball back and set the tone for the match. The Sapporo spell ended after a horrible cross-field ball was handled by Uesato.

Gamba’s passing place started here. Sapporo were content to have at least 10 men behind the ball and frustrate us but we were patient and the fluid front four started to drag them all over the shop.  Our first shot came in the 9th minute from Konno but he dragged it well wide. Only five minutes later and Sugiyama was the hero for Sapporo. Kurata, who was always in and around Leandro played a neat pass to the Brazilian on the left side of the box and his shot was destined to go in, except Sugiyama got down well to push it onto the post. The warning sign for what would be a consistent threat throughout the match. Little came in the next 10 minutes or so but the application of pressure on the Sapporo defence and midfield meant they created nothing which was very pleasing to see.

Sapporo then had a chance to score, albeit from around 30 yards after Uesato (not sure of this) rattled the crossbar with a powerhouse of a shot that had Fujigaya beaten but not the woodwork. Relief. After some excellent play down the right side, Futagawa had several options in the box but hesitated and hit the Sapporo defender – that was a chance. Matsumoto was subbed for Sapporo after being stretchered off for Horigome. Moments later in the 28th minute, Kaji sent in a wicked cross from the right and Kurata had just needed to have drank some more milk as a child and he would have scored, being unmarked in the 6 yard area. Paulao then under hit a backpass which Leandro charged down but was sent wide – the resulting play ended in a scramble in the box but it was Sapporo who got it away.

It took us until the 40th minute to get anything meaningful again. We won a couple of corners that were headed away by the first man which was disappointing by Endo but the disappointment did not last long. Slow and patient play between Endo and Konno just inside the Sapporo half eventually created space for Kurata to play a quick ball to Kaji and Sapporo were caught 2-on-3. Kaji played the ball immediately to Ienaga who played a cutting ball through to Kurata who was now free. The covering defender was 50-50 on whether to get tight or stand-off, did the latter, and Kurata took the ball past him and crossed the ball from the right and Leandro had picked up a superb position in-between the two centre-halves; from 6 yards out, he was not going to miss, putting the ball through Sugiyama’s legs – that was the 42nd minute and it was a crucial time – that super play got us to half-time 1-0 ahead.

2nd Half:
Sapporo got the second half underway but Gamba immediately pressed to win the ball back. I was in shock and in love – had we finally learnt our lesson? The start of the half belonged to us. Ienaga turned sumptuously and his pass to Kurata was not controlled. Never mind, Kurata would then go on to hit the bar a minute later after some excellent play down the left, ending with à la Júbilo/Shimizu squirming away from the defence. Fujiharu got in behind the Sapporo defence just a moment later and drilled the ball back for Leandro who would have scored but Paulao just about blocked the shot to deny an almost certain goal. A minute later, Fujiharu took his turn and cracked the bottom of the post after marauding from left-back and picking up an exquisite Kurata back-heel from 8 yards out. The only worry was conceding after this complete domination.

Maeda did have a chance just two minutes later but his shot was well saved by Fujigaya from 18 yards out but he was not rewarded with the corner he should have got. Fukai then went for another long range shot but it was always going over. Uchimura then shot at Fujigaya and Gamba just need to switch on a little bit. Just a moment before this, Futagawa got behind the Sapporo defence and wasted a shooting chance, deciding to back-heel the ball and the danger was cleared. He clearly learnt from that just a minute later.

Patient play from the back got the ball to Endo in the middle of the park from Nishino which was swiftly sent to Ienaga with no pressure on him whatsoever. He passed to the free Futagawa who quickly dispatched the ball to the free Kurata on the left touchline. He moved in and Ienaga picked the ball up just outside the penalty area and played the ball to a free Futagawa, who lifted an absolute dream of a pass that cut out the whole of the Consadole “defence” to Ienaga, who had continued to run whilst the Sapporo defenders all were caught ball watching, and he duly volleyed the ball in from 7 yards, hitting the roof of the net. It was nothing more than we deserved and even though we were not pressured at all, we were extremely slick, quick and incisive. We’ve been slow too many times going forward so far this season but today we had pace up top – the results were there for all to see. Amazing goal. An hour gone and 2-0 up.

It could immediately have been 2-1. We pressed and won the ball back only to give it away and the defence were stranded. Maeda was free on the left and was about to surely get one back when from nowhere, Konno slid in and prevented his shot troubling Fujigaya – that signalled what we missed in the last two games – a defensive shield. Thank you Konno. We responded with Leandro peeling away on the right and his shot was again blocked by Paulao with the ball ending up at Kurata’s feet but it surprised him from 2 yards and went out for a goal kick.

Furata, who had only been on for 10 minutes, injured himself when challenging Leandro and was subbed for Sunagawa whilst Futagawa earned himself some rest, swapping over with Abe. After that Leandro x Kurata chance, we took the sting out of the match and confirmed the 3 points in this period. One defensive lapse through either Iwashita or Nishino came down to our over-confidence when passing the ball but we woke up again with Fujiharu again destroying their right side, picking out Leandro who sort-of overhead kicked  his shot for a fine save by Sugiyama. The application of this attempt was very à la Urawa-Reds-5-0-win.

Into the 81st minute and the busy bee that was Kurata won a free kick for Endo to take from 30 yards. Here comes a comedy of errors that led to goal #3. Endo had the ball rolled for him and his cross was cleared ahead of the attacking Iwashita (important); this was sent across the 6 yard box to another Sapporo player. His header was then headed back across and backwards to Iwashita who was 3 yards out and looped his header over Sugiyama. GOAL! The linesman disagreed and called offside. The referee seemed bemused and went to talk to him. Obviously Iwashita would have been offside if a Gamba player had headed the ball but none of them did and the referee and linesman eventually got it right. Keisuke’s first league goal for the club. Cue a few minutes of Sapporo moaning but it was the right decision. Well done referee; poor defence again by Consadole.

Kurata then got an early break when being subbed for Okazaki in the 87th minute. The question was would we keep a clean sheet? Of course not! Into the 3rd minute of 5 added on, a long ball by Sapporo was well won against Kaji and sent out to their left – the cross came in to Maeda and his shot was well blocked but the rebound came to Miyazawa who got the ball in-between Konno and Nishino to place it into the top corner. A disappointing way to end the match but it was probably a deserved Sapporo goal. Full-Time, 3-1 win.

Gamba were a class above their opposition. There are too many good things to say about the performance, which has been poor in recent games, and only a clean sheet would have made the game perfect for the fans. The most pleasing parts were the pressing play and the speed in attack that have been missing so far. Are we starting to learn from previous matches? Time will tell, but let’s savour this win for now.

Man of the Match:
For the second match in a row, it’s Shu Kurata. The TV decided to give it to Leandro and although he was once again fantastic, along with the improving Akihiro Ienaga who had a stellar, controlled performance today, Shu deserves it again for the same reasons as before. He was just that little bit stronger than Ienaga in the final third, no doubt down to his running off the ball, his pressure on the Sapporo defence and his effort and manipulation of the Sapporo defence. He set up the goal for Leandro and hit the bar himself, as well as allowing Leandro and Fujiharu to hit the post. The left-hand side was our biggest threat thanks to him and he seems to be enjoying his football and, most importantly, he is playing well and supporting Leandro whenever he can. Rejecting the Pigs was a great call, and he is showing that only one team in Osaka can rule his heart.

Where it leaves both teams:
Although I have been very critical of Gamba, and probably a bit too much, we find ourselves in 3rd place, leading another 3 teams on 10 points on goal difference. We are 5 points behind Vissel Kobe and 2 points short of Montedio Yamagata. Gamba and Fagiano Okayama have the only unbeaten records left in the division having both won 2 and drawn 4. We must look at the positives rather than the negatives, as I have been doing, and at this early stage we could have played better and got better results, but overall we deserve to be where we are right now.

As for Consadole, they got their first home goal of the season even though they have yet to win at home and they need to overcome that as soon as they can, just like Gamba. Their problems are their inability to convert the many chances they got today as well as having such a young squad. When the average age of the team is just over of 25 compared to almost 28 for Gamba, there are going to be shortcomings, especially if your centre-half is making his debut for the club. Nonetheless, Sapporo looked threatening and Maeda will just need to be more ruthless if Sapporo are to score more. They will be up and down this season but are capable of a shock or two. 18th place at the moment but they will definitely not stay there.

Gamba go back home and will look to finally win there – we face a Tokyo Verdy team that claimed its first win of the season against basement dwellers FC Gifu. Sapporo’s travels do not get easier with a trip to Fagiano Okayama. Any result there will be a positive one for the Hokkaido side.

Consadole Sapporo 1-3 Gamba Osaka


Match Preview – 31/03/2013 – J2: Section 6 – Consadole Sapporo v Gamba Osaka

Avispa Fukuoka v CONSADOLE SAPPOROWith especially the last two matches being very disappointing and ending in draws (three in a row!), Gamba will head up to the most northern team in the J.League, Consadole Sapporo, to confront a young and topsy-turvy team that gave us warm memories last season. The game will be played at the spectacular Sapporo Dome at 16:00 local time.

This will be the first J2 match between the two sides despite having a healthy J1 rivalry in the years before both teams were relegated last season. Gamba can take pride in the fact that they won their last game at the Dome 4-0 when neither team were particularly brimming with confidence and the last meet between the two sides ended in a landslide victory for Gamba, with Leandro hitting a hat-trick in a 7-2 win. Gamba finished a whopping 24 points but just 1 place ahead of the eternally rooted Sapporo, who have kept only 2 clean sheets since the start of the 2012 season at home (although more than Gamba) but they have managed to win only 3 in that time along with 2 draws in 19 matches. All of Sapporo’s wins this term have come from their away games. Just like Gamba, they simply refuse to win at home. They return to the Dome after an impressive 1-0 win away to Avispa Fukuoka despite ending the match with 10 men. This is a team with 14 products of their youth system, almost half of their roster. It will be an up-and-down season for this squad. Gamba will arrive in Hokkaido looking to break their run of 3 draws and away from home seems like the place to do it.

The league history between both teams is fascinating. Despite only playing each other 10 times, thanks in no small part to Sapporo being unable to stay in J1 for too long, there has only ever been one away win – which was last year’s 4-0 win for Gamba. Traditionally, Gamba have found it tough going in Hokkaido, even against a weak Sapporo team. 3 out of 5 games in Sapporo have ended in a win for the home team. Over the ten league matches, the home team has scored 19 goals compared to 11 from the away team. Although Gamba have only ever won once in Sapporo, they’ve still scored more. Last season aside, these games were pretty low scoring.

Consadole Sapporo v GAMBA OSAKA Wish

Let’s get away from the history now and onto the teams. Starting with Consadole, they will be without central defender Nara who was sent-off last weekend for two bookings whilst Cho Song-Jin, also a defender, had to leave the pitch after only 18 minutes of play and is probably going to miss out. This will come as a blow to the team as they have conceded only 4 goals, albeit all of these coming in all of their defeats. Consadole have picked up two impressive 1-0 away wins at JEF and Fukuoka but they may struggle, again, at home. They have been playing a similar 4-2-3-1 system but have yet to score in their two matches at home. Sapporo could only name 6 substitutes against Fukuoka, so this match might be a big ask for them.  You can see their line-up against Avispa Fukuoka to the side.

Gamba received some good news, in my humble opinion, with the news that Tomokazu Myojin has picked up a hamstring strain, length of injury unknown, but it can be at least 3 weeks. We might miss his experience but not his “contribution” to the team. Who cares anyway? Konno and Endo are back with the squad after their disappointing travels with the national team. Endo will return as captain but where does Konno play? Alongside the captain in midfield or back in defence? If he goes to defence, will Nishino or Iwashita partner him? With that, who plays alongside Endo – Takei or Uchida? I would prefer to see Uchida get some game time but me and Hasegawa agree on nothing, so Takei it is. Furthermore, does Ienaga come in behind Leandro or does Futagawa keep his place? And what about Hirai – not even on the bench last week but I still want to see his combination with Leandro. I am giving you the teams I would pick to the side, but Hasegawa will ignore me.

Consadole Sapporo v GAMBA OSAKA Wish #2He is back from national duty so all eyes are on Yasuyuki Konno. Even though we do not yet know in which position he will play, there can only positives with his return to the squad for this game against his former team. I would prefer him to partner Nishino over Iwashita as the lad needs a helping hand but Gamba look stronger in defence with him next to Endo. If he plays there, I am sure that the game will end with a clean sheet to Gamba.

The final result prediction is 0-3 to Gamba Osaka. Having bigged-up Konno, Sapporo have been toothless at home so far against Tochigi and Matsumoto Yamaga and I expect more of the same. Even against a leaky Gamba defence, Konno’s influence (in front of Nishino and Iwashita or not) will keep us out of too much trouble. I expect Sapporo’s preference of being away, as well as Gamba’s, to continue, especially with the fresh scars of the drubbings last season. Hasegawa’s plan must click eventually and the season should start now. There have been positive signs without the performance and final product being great, so the inexperienced Sapporo side might get hurt once again. But do not listen to me, I have been right only once so far with these bloody predictions (which was an away win!)!

Match Report – 24/03/2013 – J2: Section 5 – Gamba Osaka 1-1 JEF United Chiba

GAMBA OSAKA v JEF UnitedIn another lacklustre performance by the blue half of Osaka on Wednesday, the team followed suit in Sunday’s match in front of a waning crowd at Banpaku, falling from over 18,000 against Kyoto to just over 11,000 against a big name team. The same problems have come along again and again so this will be one of my shorter reports.

Hasegawa did not take my advice for his team selection (surprise surprise) and only changed Ienaga for Futagawa. Hirai was not even on the bench! Konno and Endo were away with Japan so they were “covered” with any positive effects by Takei and Myojin. Kaji again captained the team.

JEF were a lot more positive as Kempes was dropped to the bench along with Kim, being replaced by Oiwa and Nam respectively.

Gamba Osaka XI: Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Nishino, Fujiharu, Myojin, Takei, Abe, Kurata, Futagawa, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs: Kimura, Niwa, Uchida, Okazaki, Ienaga, Paulinho, Kawanishi.
JEF XI: Okamoto, Takahashi, Takeuchi, Yamaguchi, Oiwa, Y Sato, K Sato, Yonekura, Jair, Nam, Yazawa.
JEF Subs: Okubo, Kim, Ito, Hyodo, Kei, Fukai, Kempes.

JEF UNITED v Gamba Osaka1st Half:
Gamba started the brighter with Abe unable to find the target, as usual, with only 25 seconds on the clock after Takei played a smart ball over the top following fast play down the left. In the 7th minute, a back-pass to Okamoto was pressed by Leandro, forcing the keeper to kick quickly and straight to Kurata’s feet, but he could not control the ball, which went to Okamoto’s grateful hands. Kurata should have done better. JEF failed to settle in the 15 minutes with Gamba having the upper hand whilst failing to score. Things looked okay but Takei had other ideas.

After a scrappy bit of play in the midfield, he tried to hold onto the ball when he would have done better to just kick it away. Jair stole in and there was bit trouble. Takei and Myojin could not slow the JEF player down as he bore down on goal, where he took it to the right of goal, flat-footing a rooted and less-than-ready Iwashita, drilling the ball past Fujigaya in the opposite corner which gave JEF a goal with their first shot on goal.

A typical goal conceded by Gamba. Over-play in midfield which left the defence exposed and Fujigaya defenceless. Myojin and Takei have done nothing to impress yet, particularly Myojin, who I caught doing nothing during large periods of the match. In my podcast I keep questioning what he actually does, and the answer is nothing. Does Hasegawa not know this? Because I do! Honestly, play Uchida as the partner to Endo next match and get Nishino and Iwashita to fight over a spot with Konno in defence. Or simply, play them both and have Konno with Endo. But allow Uchida some playing time. Future manager – me.

It did not take long to get leveller after that 18th minute opener. Takei tried to make up for things by going for the spectacular but his shot was blocked and it looped into the air and Futagawa controlled impressively, passing it to Leandro who was crowded out and had his shot blocked, which then happened to Abe, but this time Kurata came in unmarked on the left and drilled a shot across Okamoto and into the bottom corner. His first of the season, finally, and back on level terms. Scrappy, carnage, goal.

Leandro should have it 2-1 after a delightful outside of foot pass by Futagawa but he could only hit Okamoto in the chest. Last year, he would have scored that. And again in the 45th minute, Abe crossed the ball to the near post from the left and Leandro was unchallenged but his header was tame and again, Okamoto had catching practice. Profligacy… and half-time.

2nd Half:
A very boring half with not much to discuss, action-wise. Another game where Leandro was calling his teammates to push up the pitch and press the opposition, and once again they ignored him. Once again, the opposition pressed us into mistakes and once again we did not learn from it. Once again, Leandro was isolated and once again Hasegawa did not give him that striker he desperately needs. Hurry up Akihiro Sato, Gamba and Leandro need you!

The point to make is that Hasegawa keeps making the same errors with his team selections, with his tactics and his overall contribution (negative) to the team. When he was appointed manager, never in a million years did I believe I would be watching the same Gamba team as last year but without the team spirit. At least we got relegated fighting. He has come along and taken the fight out of the team.

Anyway, the best chances in the second half came to JEF. Shortly after Nishino went crazy and ended-up as a right-winger to tackle and get yellow carded (if you think it does not make sense, then you’d be right), Kempes waddled onto the pitch. Iwashita did well to get a foot onto the ball as he tried to get around the unfit Brazilian, but the ball forced Fujigaya to rush his clearance and he only ended 5 yards away at Nam’s feet who smashed the ball off the bar (thanks to a Fujigaya hand?) and the rebound came to Kempes who just about got it in, but used his hand and was booked for it. Let-off.

Up the other end, Gamba lacked that final ball and incision with many attacks petering out thanks to that. They never really looked like scoring. Neither did JEF until the last minute of the match. A free-kick from the right was met by former Gamba captain Satoshi Yamaguchi who did everything right but Fujigaya somehow reacted quickly enough to send the header onto the crossbar. Saved. I would not have been surprised if they had scored then, but they did not. Game over. Problems continue.

Quick notes on subs for Gamba. On came Okazaki for his first ever professional start, along with Paulinho and Ienaga, who both continued their poor starts by doing nothing to affect the game. Out went Abe, Futagawa and Kurata – it tells you everything when your supporting players to the striker are all taken off. The sooner Hirai and Leandro start the better. Or Sato comes back sooner than expected.

Man of the Match:
Shu Kurata was the most threatening player and most productive. Okay so he scored the equaliser but it is difficult to pick any player from either side. Jair was probably the best for JEF as he always looked like the one who would do something. Fortunately, his team did not get him involved enough but he took advantage when he could. Shu has been plugging away and working his socks off without the end result but he has been a bit unfortunate so far to have not scored more. He has been the best player when supporting Leandro and if he can keep going, he will be a lot more effective sooner rather than later. A shout-out for Fujigaya again after he saved us in the last minute and put his “error” against Roasso behind him.

Where it leaves both teams:
That result sent Gamba falling down to 8th position with 7 points. We are now unbeaten at home in 10 matches but have drawn the last 7. 4 draws from 5 matches so far this seaason is not good enough, at all. Fortunately maybe for us is that the last team we beat in a two match winning streak was Consadole Sapporo. And who do we play on Sunday 31st? 4-0 and 7-2 victories look a long way away now.

JEF are now on 6 points from 5 matches and have also hit 3 draws in a row. They are in 11th place and have an interesting home match against Giravanz Kitakyushu on Sunday. They will be the happier to get a point against Gamba.

Gamba Osaka 1-1 JEF United Chiba

Match Preview – 24/03/2013 – J2: Section 5 – Gamba Osaka v JEF United Chiba

With the hugely disappointing, annoying, frustrating, upsetting and disgraceful 2-2 against Roasso Kumamoto on Wednesday (with the tone set by the be-headers of Roasso-Kun), Gamba will be looking to put that disappointment behind them when they face JEF United Chiba at Banpaku on Sunday at 16:00 local time in what should be a clash between promotion candidates or, if Chiba get their way, between teams that are perennial underachievers in recent times.

Despite drawing on Wednesday, Gamba magically managed to stay in 5th place and cut the gap to Vissel Kobe down to three points after their Kansai rivals were destroyed by fellow Kansai rivals Kyoto Sanga. JEF stumbled to a 1-1 draw, at home, against Gainare Tottori which meant they also hit back-to-back draws, with them sitting on five points in 10th place.

JEF UNITED CHIBA v Gainare Tottori

As for the historical data between these two sides, Gamba have been unbeaten in the last seven matches in all competitions with their last defeat in the league coming on the penultimate date of the 2005 season, a result that almost cost us the title. Since that day, Gamba have secured four consecutive clean sheets at home and will be looking to add to that tally against a JEF side that put 3 past Kumamoto but only one goal in their other three games. Gamba have had the better history against JEF at home too, with 10 wins from 20 matches with JEF winning just 6. We will also be looking to get back-to-back home clean sheets since we won 1-0 against both Kashima Antlers and Vegalta Sendai in November 2011. The last time these two sides played was on JEF’s last game in the top flight in December 2009.

Tomokazu Myojin will make his 300th appearance for Gamba if he gets some playing time on Sunday whilst former Gamba captain and club legend Satoshi Yamaguchi will be returning to Banpaku for the first time since that winter of change and destruction in 2011/2012. He captained the club to their only J.League crown in 2005 and will surely be welcomed back warmly.

JEF are simply a mixed-bag of a team who struggle to reach their potential, having been stuck in J2 since the 2010 and they have struggled with their “giants” tag and Gamba will do well to get out of this division as soon as possible. They have lost the main man from last season Yoshihito Fujita to Yokohama F.Marinos and replaced him with the pretty average Kempes from the Pigs. This once respectable team is nothing but the butt of all jokes, along with Tokyo Verdy, but they can still challenge the best in the league and Gamba will have to be wary of the challenge ahead. Their biggest problem has been their inability to put the sword to teams when they have been clearly making more chances than them. Their team against Gainare Tottori can be seen to the left.

GAMBA OSAKA v JEF United PredictionGamba’s team selection will be a bit more interesting and fascinating if Hasegawa makes some necessary changes to shake up the team and hopefully it might make them wake up. I would presume that the back five will stay the same but further protection of the still-young relationship between Iwashita and Nishino is a must. There needs to be an actual defending-midfielder alongside the presumed inclusion of Myojin in the team. I suggest that Uchida gets the nod as he needs experience and has been specifically moved to that position this season instead of right-back. I would additionally like to see Hirai take the main striker’s position upfront with Leandro in behind him, forcing Ienaga to fall to the bench after two dismal performances thus far. I keep saying it, but Leandro prefers an actual striking partner – he misses Akihiro Sato, and so do I. This will be my predicted team but I am 100% Hasegawa will not agree with me.

With the fire back in his belly, keep an eye out for Leandro. After a slow start to the campaign, what with illness and his isolation up top in the first three games of the season, Leandro seemed pumped and ready for the J2 challenge against Roasso Kumamoto, unlike the rest of his teammates. If we can get more support play around and ahead of him when going forward, we will surely see the Leandro that terrorised the best defences in J1 last season. He can easily be the catalyst for a successful return to J1 in one attempt this season and we might just see him starting to roll through the gears after his fantastic individual display on Wednesday. It was a pleasure to see him battle, and that behaviour needs to infect the rest of the team. Hasegawa needs to, and I hope he will, knock a few heads together soon.

The mystic ball says 2-0 to Gamba Osaka. Going for another clean sheet at home, eh? You bet, and simply because I think JEF are pretty toothless with Kempes as their main striker and I think Hasegawa might just start to tighten up that back line, albeit eventually. We definitely will not lose and we will stretch our unbeaten home run to 10 matches, and we will end our 6 game draw streak. If we get Leandro involved, there will be no stopping us. There are many ‘ifs’ hinging on my prediction but sooner rather than later, all of these will be fixed and we will be promoted. What do you think?

Match Report – 20/03/2013 – J2: Section 4 – Roasso Kumamoto 2-2 Gamba Osaka

On the back of their disappointing-but-containing-many-positive-points 0-0 draw at home to Yokohama FC on Sunday, Gamba headed down to Kyushu for the second game running, this time taking on Roasso Kumamoto on Vernal Equinox Day, which ended in an annoying 2-2 draw in front of 11,874 people.

ROASSO KUMAMOTO v Gamba OsakaGamba were without Endo and Konno due to national team duty so Myojin returned to the team line-up whilst Takei joined him for his first start of the season. Unsurprisingly, Niwa was relieved of his duties at right-back to make way for the ever-reliable and captain for the day Akira Kaji, who made his first league start since that fateful day in Iwata last December. This meant that Nishino kept his role as central-defensive partner to Iwashita in Konno’s absence. We also saw the return of Akihiro Ienaga in-behind Leandro which meant that Futagawa dropped down to the bench.

Roasso also made a couple of changes from their team that beat Matsumoto Yamaga on Sunday. Tsuyuki dropped to the bench for veteran Kurakawa to take his place at right-back, whilst Nakama shifted into Fabio’s spot to make place for midfielder Osako.

Roasso Kumamoto XI – Minami, Kurakawa, Yoshii, Yano, Katayama, Osako, Kuroki, Harada, Fujimoto, Nakama, Saito.
Roasso Kumamoto Subs – Hata, Takahashi, Fukuo, Tsuyuki, Yabu, Goryo, Kitajima.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Nishino, Fujiharu, Myojin, Takei, Ienaga, Abe, Leandro, Kurata.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Niwa, Futagawa, Uchida, Paulinho, Hirai, Kawanishi.

Roasso Kumamoto v GAMBA OSAKA #21st Half:
It was Kumamoto who seemed to be controlling the match, if a little loosely, in the opening period of the game. They kept the ball well and their first real chance came in the 7th minute, when a cross was sent in from the left and Nishino just got in front of their attacker to prevent him from getting decent contact, sending the ball out for a goal kick – the first 10 minutes belonged to them. Ienaga then took control of the game and the tempo, strolling across the pitch with the move ending in Abe shooting at the goalkeeper. A few minutes later, there was some excellent passing down the left that just went askew. Takei then did his best to allow Roasso to score, poorly giving the ball away in midfield and exposing the back four – luckily Saito dragged his free shot wide. Kumamoto then had a free-kick in the 17th minute thanks to Iwashita, which was played short but blocked by Leandro and then they pulled a decent save out of Fujigaya.

All hail Leandro. Moments before his goal, he called for higher pressure on the Roasso play which worked a treat – some excellent passing football followed and Roasso could not get anywhere near the ball. The ball went mainly through the middle and right of the pitch with a pass laid into Kurata, who fortunately got a decent bounce from the ball and laid it off to Leandro who, right in front of goal, dinked his shot over the rushing goalkeeper. You just knew he was going to score.

After that, Gamba were very rigid in their shape, holding a 4-4-2 system and waiting for the opposition to make an error. They continued to play keep-ball and were almost in again, but Abe was inches offside. That passing play almost equalled suicide in the 30th minute. Roasso got a corner that came to nothing but Ienaga tried to play a back-pass through Iwashita, it hit him and the Roasso forward was well denied by the continually improving Fujigaya. Let-off. Roasso were also intent on passing the ball and that lack of defensive cover in the midfield from Konno was shown when Iwashita and Nishino were left to deal with the attacks. So what does Myojin contribute to the team? And Takei? For the latter, it was a goal in the 38th minute. Kaji sent in a cross from the right that was too short for Abe and so his defender won it ahead of him but inexplicably headed across the 6 yard box, catching his colleagues unawares, allowing Takei to sneak in and add to the tally, beating Leandro to the ball, and smashing it past the defenceless goalkeeper.

Yet Leandro should have scored just 5 minutes later, picking the ball up on the right-hand side and tricking and swivelling his way into the Roasso box and hitting the near post. This one-man team ended the half 2-0 to the good, perhaps fortunately so, but when you are playing well and bad, you take it.

2nd Half:
Roasso took off Osako and brought on Kitajima in what would be a hugely successful substitution. It was Kumamoto who looked the most threatening in the early stages of the second half, first having a flurry of shots blocked by a for-now resilient Gamba defence and then Kaji gave the ball away, allowing a cross to hit Iwashita and subsequently the post. This woke Gamba up a bit, with us winning a corner that ended at Kurata’s feet, but he could only hit the keeper with his shot. Gamba then got on a counter attack but the referee called for a foul on Kurata instead of playing on with us in a dangerous position.

In the 57th minute, Roasso won a corner and with the Gamba defence taking a nap, they took it short, with the cross sent into the box from the right and landing beautifully of Yano’s head, who could only hit it at Fujigaya. He, for some reason, pushed the ball up instead of out, allowing a Kumamoto player to attack the ball with Fujigaya stranded on the floor, to put him off and hit his chest which put Roasso back into the match. Gamba fans called for a foul but Fujigaya has to take blame for the goal and he never had control of the ball, and even though the Roasso attacker went to challenge for the ball, it was less than a meter from the ground and therefore not dangerous. A deserved goal for the hosts, but that was where Gamba started to fail miserably.

Gamba resumed their passing play down the right again and the ball fell to Ienaga who spooned one well wide of the post. We were trying to be too fancy and it was not effective enough… then Kitajima cut in from the right and was well tracked by Fujiharu who forced him to head well wide, but this was just a precursor to the goal. Enter the 63rd minute and the equaliser – Kitajima cut inside again whilst the ball was on the opposite flank and the ball made its way to Nakama who took a shot from 20-25 yards. This is where Kitajima’s actions proved important. Fujiharu had followed him, as you would expect, into the middle and it was his foot that caused Nakama’s shot to be deflected past Fujigaya, who had no chance. Fujiharu was the victim of his hard work, but Roasso got level, and deservedly so.

Takei and Kurata were subbed for Futagawa and Kawanishi, meaning that Ienaga moved alongside Myojin in the “volonte” position. A bad call because it left us even more exposed as Ienaga is not one to defend. Immediately Roasso broke down their left and sent a cross to the edge of the box on the right but Kuroki, unmarked and scrambling to get there, sent his shot well over. It was simply too easy. Even worse, Leandro had not been involved in the second half as we did not control the match and we had to wait until the 73rd minute for him to affect the play once more, with great interplay between him and Abe, ending with his shot being blocked. He was then pushed to the ground in the 76th minute in the penalty area but the referee “saw nothing”. Roasso brought on Goryo for Fujimoto and Saito was inches from making it 3-2 with his shot going just wide. Ienaga’s frustrations then earned him his second yellow card in as many games with a needless foul on the half-way line.

Abe then had the first of two massive chances for Gamba which could have saved our blushes. He was unmarked from 12 yards after some great play down the right but he could only hit his shot right at the goalkeeper. Gamba controlled the last few minutes of the game with Leandro being the man to grab the team by the scruff of the neck, with his wonderful outside-of-the-boot cross put on a plate for Kawanishi who unaccountably missed the target, especially as he was completely unmarked at the back post. Roasso then made a sub in the 90th minute, with Harada going out for Yabu and three minutes were added on. Leandro made the only chance in that time, his shot being well blocked by Minami in goal.

Full-time and a poor display in truth. The players made their way over to the travelling support, who were not happy at all. Microphones had screaming voices projecting down onto the players, whilst many fans were grabbing the badge on their shirts, obviously pointing out that the team played with no pride, especially having been 2-0 up at half-time. I totally agree with them – the team need to wake up and smell that bitter J2 coffee soon and play games without this superiority complex that they seem to have. Questions also have to be raised towards Hasegawa, who continues with the same team without it wielding more wins. Myojin gives no defensive cover to the centre-backs and having Konno there would be ideal, if he was not away. Yet as we all know, Leandro plays better as the second striker, so why did Hirai not start instead of Ienaga, who looked average at best? Leandro needs support but he is the only one trying to make things happen or be a bit more creative. I want to see passion and commitment from the team, and I expected us to dominate the match and improve upon the 0-0 draw against Yokohama that had so many positives. But we are back to the Kyoto 3-3 match – square one.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Roasso who confounded my expectations and put on a real show against a big name opposition. If we carry on, we will be only a former big name. Roasso should make mid-table safety, one would expect.

Man of the Match:
Leandro showed why he was so effective and dangerous last season, but he also showed great teamwork and determination. He was head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch and even though he was excluded in the second-half, he took it upon himself to try and drag the team out of their slump. He definitely controlled all the attacking play and was willing to work the channels and come out of position to affect the play. He seemed to have regained his fire and that can only be good news; he was the only player who did not deserve the cascade of abuse by the fans after the match. Excellent stuff, mate!

Roasso-Kun Gets Beheaded

Where it leaves both teams:
Gamba amazingly still sit 5th in the league table and have closed the gap on Kobe to 3 points thanks to their 4-1 spanking at Kyoto Sanga, who climb to 2nd. The team need to wake up and smell the bitter reality of J2 sooner rather than later – they have failed to get the more shots than their opponents this season and have not controlled a game from start to finish… Kumamoto also remain unchanged in 18th place but they should reach at least mid-table with similar performances like that throughout the season. Gamba now host JEF on Sunday whilst Kumamoto travel to struggling Tokyo Verdy and will be looking to build on this performance, minus the errors.

Edit – A few Gamba fans decided to have some fun with the Roasso Kumamoto mascot Roasso-Kun before the match on Wednesday. The club have apologised to the mascot after he was beheaded by the supporters. You can see the picture to the side. The original picture was taken from here and no infringement was intended.

Roasso Kumamoto 2-2 Gamba Osaka

Match Preview – 20/03/2013 – J2: Section 4 – Roasso Kumamoto v Gamba Osaka

The team now make their second trip to Kyushu in as many away games to take on struggling team Roasso Kumamoto at the Umakana Yokana Stadium. Gamba will be looking for back-to-back away victories whilst Kumamoto will be looking for back-to-back victories and their first at home this season. The day is a holiday in Japan and the game kicks-off at 13:00 local time.

The form book suggests that this match, which is the first ever competitive match between the two side, cannot be a draw, given that Kumamoto have not drawn a game at home since 22nd August against Thespa Kusatsu whilst Gamba have also only registered one away draw in that time, with a last-gasp 2-2 draw against Kashiwa Reysol – a combined total of just 4 draws at home for Kumamoto and 4 draws away for Gamba throughout 2012 in 38 matches.

Matsumoto Yamaga v ROASSO KUMAMOTOGamba sit in 5th place on 5 points with 2 draws and 1 win, whilst Kumamoto sit on 3 points after picking up their first win of the campaign on the weekend, surprisingly, against Matsumoto Yamaga. Saito scored both of their goals to put them 2-0 ahead, with Yamaga’s goal coming in the 93rd minute – this result put them into 18th place. Gamba’s 0-0 draw was disappointing but contained many positives, which were discussed in my podcast. Kumamoto’s starting eleven for their win against Matsumoto Yamaga can be seen to the right.

Gamba ought to be looking to get the balance right between attack and defence for this match, with particular emphasis on getting the final ball right as this was the only disappointing part on Sunday, along with the score (or lack of).

Although Kumamoto are seen as basement dwellers for this season, they must thank Saito for his two goals the other day which won them that game. Yet one of their biggest problems comes from their severe inconsistency. For example, in their last 25 matches, they have only draw 2, but hitting winning streaks of 5 games but slumping to 4 games without a win. This was partly why they ended up in mid-table last season. It is hard to predict which team will come out and play – similar to Gamba from last season.

Roasso Kumamoto v GAMBA OSAKA Prediction

Concerning the team selection for this game, there are a few question marks raised with the absence of Endo and Konno, who have travelled to Qatar for national team duty. Given that Nishino played at centre-half on Sunday, he will more than likely get the spot again, whilst Kaji should take up the right-side given his return on Sunday. In the “volonte” position, Myojin will more than likely take back his regular spot. But who will join him? If Ienaga’s fitness was better known, maybe he could have slid into that position. Without being risky, Takuya Takei is a solid player who should get in. We’ve had surprises already this season, so who knows who will be chosen! As for Futagawa, no news has reached us about his “injury” on Sunday, so he should be okay. If not, the Hirai should come in up top, with Leandro allowed to roam as he like to do. You can see my wildly predicted line-up to the side.

Keep an eye out for Takaharu Nishino. The young player (slightly older than myself) was highly effective on Sunday during his first-ever league start and will be looking to impress again now that Konno is not there to save his bacon. He kept Okubo quiet last time out, and you will expect him to be solid again and keep Saito quiet. It will be interesting to see his and Iwashita’s relationship build-up when Konno is away with Japan. We are all supporting you, Taka!

The team will be hurt that they did not get the goal(s) their efforts deserved on Sunday so I am expecting a backlash 4-0 win. Am I being too optimistic for wanting back-to-back away wins as well as back-to-back clean sheets? Absolutely not! Our game level just needs to be raised slightly to ensure that Vissel Kobe do not make their lead even bigger and given Kumamoto’s poor recent home record, and the fact we seem to prefer being away  from home, I can see only one result! Join me on twitter to follow the match coverage live.

Match Report – 17/03/2013 – J2: Section 3 – Gamba Osaka 0-0 Yokohama FC

Having successfully overcome a tricky tie away to V-Varen Nagasaki last week, Gamba were searching for back-to-back wins and the first home win of the season. They came up against a determined, but visibly weaker Yokohama FC at Banpaku with the game ending 0-0 in front of 13,476 paying customers who were left goalless at Banpaku in the league for the first time in three years.

GAMBA OSAKA v Yokohama FCWith Leandro recovering from the flu, it was no surprise to see him reinstated to the stating eleven, even though Hirai scored two goals last week. An unexpected change was to see Myojin being replaced by 19 year-old centre-half Takaharu Nishino, who made his first league appearance for the club. It was expected that he would play some part this year, given that Endo and, especially in this case, Konno, will be on national duty throughout the season, Hasegawa took this opportunity to push Konno into midfield and give Nishino a chance alongside Iwashita, which would evidently be the preferred option for Wednesday’s and Sunday’s games without Konno at the back. The most pleasing thing for the fans was seeing Kaji back on the bench after getting injured during pre-season. Ienaga, it seems, is still not ready to return, having not even made the bench.

Yokohama went for their usual 4-1-4-1 with former Gamba player Shinichi Terada included from the start. They stuck with the same team that drew 2-2 at home with Tokushima Vortis last weekend.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Niwa, Nishino, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Konno, Endo, Abe, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Kaji, Numata, Myojin, Takei, Paulinho, Hirai
Yokohama FC XI – Shibasaki, Nogami, Bae, Morishita, Nishijima, Matsushita, Takachi, Terada, Uchida, Takeoka, Okubo
Yokohama FC Subs – Schneider, Morimoto, Watanabe, Sato, Nozaki, Aoki, Tahara

Gamba Osaka v YOKOHAMA FC

1st Half:
The first was dominated by Gamba, who kicked-off the game, attacking the away fans first. It was very apparent in the first few minutes that one of Yokohama’s tactics was to leave a few bruising tackles on the Gamba players to alert them that the game would not be an easy ride; not that we were expecting that, of course. They opted for this over the pressing game that Kyoto had taken. They particularly had a lot of fun slamming Leandro to the ground, with Nishijima absolutely smashing him within three minutes but he escaped without caution. There were a few half chances falling to Futagawa first, who sent his shot well over the bar, followed by Abe, whose shot was saved down low by Shibasaki in the Yokohama goal. Abe’s attempt came after a long period of impressive interchanges and swift passing play. Things looked great.

Kurata was fouled a few times, and by the 13th minute, Matsushita was in the book. This served as a warning to the Yokohama players who refrained from this tactic for pretty much the rest of the match, with a few tough tackles at times. Their best chance of the whole match came in the 15th minute; they whipped in a free-kick and won the header, forcing Fujigaya into a reaction save and the ball landed to a Yokohama attacker but his header was right at the floored Fujigaya, who blocked it again, who is getting more confident in each game. Konno immediately replied with a dipping and swerving volley that was well saved by Shibasaki. Elsewhere, Nishino was looking a bit shaky, understandably, but did well to battle and beat Okubo, who was nullified throughout the match. Shots and crosses started to go AWOL and the team lost its rhythm and pace with Yokohama getting forward but doing nothing. In the 37th minute, Abe dispossessed his man and played Leandro through on goal but he was flagged offside. Call me biased but he was level, no doubts about it. Then the game sunk back again into poor shots and bad final passes. Half-time came with Gamba being the better team but with nothing to show for it.

2nd Half:
Yokohama came out and were determined to show their quality. They certainly seemed to have more of the ball even if Gamba started well with their keep ball and slick passing coming back for a short while. Fujiharu fizzed a cross right at Leandro, whose control was poor and denied him a one-on-one with Shibasaki. Enter Terada. Having been quiet in the first half, he started to probe. He had a cross-come-shot left alone by his own players when surely Okubo should have been attacking it. Abe played in Kurata but he did well to not control the ball before Terada set up Okubo, whose shot went out for a corner via a deflection. Takachi went off for Sato in the 61st minute, then Okubo was subbed in the 66th minute, being replaced by Tahara shortly after Endo took one for the team to stop a counter attack, picking up a yellow card in the process. Paulinho eventually came on for the lagging Futagawa, shortly followed by the returning Kaji in place of the untroubled Niwa at right-back. Into the last 10 minutes and Paulinho went for glory from 20 yards but put the ball into orbit with all the other AWOL shots. Then Terada was inexplicably taken off for Nozaki in the 81st minute. The game was epitomised with Leandro hitting a pass too hard for Endo shortly before being subbed for Hirai.

Into 5 minutes of added time and both teams had fantastic chances to win it having space aplenty in the midfield. Firstly, Nishijima almost took advantage when a free-kick was whipped in and bounced in front of him, facing away from goal; he went for the over-head-kick volley but agonisingly hit the top of the bar. Down the other end, the booked Abe crossed for Hirai who only had to get a toe on the cross to score, but the ball evaded him too. Game over, 0-0. The first 0-0 at Banpaku in three years and the first clean sheet since the 26th November 2011. Gamba unbeaten in 9 at home but have only picked up 2 wins in that time. Yokohama keep up their impressive defensive record away from home. Neither team deserved to win, so the point was a fair one.

Man of the Match:
Yosuke Fujigaya, Shu Kurata and Shinichi Terada: In a game littered with few clear chances, it is hard to pick one man, so Fujigaya gets a vote for being consistently comfortable in goal and improving every game. Kurata was the player buzzing around always trying and not giving up, so he deserves a mention here, whilst Shinichi Terada was most impressive on his return to Banpaku. He controlled the midfield in the 2nd half and impressed this critical writer. Good job, Shinichi.

Where it leaves both teams:
Both teams are on 5 points from 3 games with a win and two draws each, still being unbeaten. Gamba will now head down to Roasso Kumamoto who picked up their first win today impressively away to Matsumoto Yamaga 2-1. Gamba will be without Konno and Endo for that game and next Sunday’s match against JEF, which is where our strength in depth plays a huge part. Yokohama hit the road again and head to the dismal ThespaKusatsu Gunma who scrapped a point against FC Gifu, who really should have taken all 3 points. Yokohama should expect to get 3 points there. Both teams now trail Vissel Kobe by 4 points after they won 1-0 against Consadole Sapporo, but their biggest test will come on Wednesday against Kyoto Sanga away.

For greater match analysis, listen to the podcast, with myself joined by Sebi Mereu, recorded just hours after the match. Emotions are contained within.

Gamba Osaka 0-0 Yokohama FC