Gamba’s first ever J2 match was played in front of 18,041 spectators at Banpaku. These fans were not disappointed, entertainment wise, with an enthralling 3-3 draw that saw two penalties, a disallowed goal, two goals in added-on time and a sending-off, just to name a few. The fans, as well as me, are disappointed with the manner of the draw.
Kenta Hasegawa made no surprises with his team selefoundection going into the game. He stuck with the favourite 4-2-3-1 formation with Leandro as the sole striker, having the recovered Ienaga floating in and around him whenever the team was to move forward. Niwa was chosen at right-back due to injuries to Kaji, Oh and Takei, whilst Fujigaya was picked over Kimura.
The opposition went for a 4-5-1 when in defence but quickly sprung into a 4-3-3 whenever they got the ball. This was to prove vital to the flow of the game – their efficiency and work ethic made it possible to deploy this successful formation flip.
For both teams, substitutes became extremely important.
GAMBA XI – Fujigaya, Niwa, Iwashita, Konno, Fujiharu, Myojin, Endo, Abe, Ienaga, Kurata, Leandro.
GAMBA Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Nishino, Futagawa, Uchida, Paulinho, Hirai.
SANGA XI – Oh, Ando, Someya, Bajalica, Okamura, Yamase, Akimoto, Kudo, Komai, Mitsuhira, Miyayoshi.
SANGA Subs – Kodama, Sakai, Nakayama, Kuranuki, Tamori, Nakamura, Kubo.
The match started with Gamba kicking-off towards their own fans, an unusual event as usually they attack their own fans in the 2nd half of matches. Within two minutes, Yamase for Kyoto shot just wide. After that, the game was controlled by Gamba without them really getting anywhere – Kyoto were pressing the ball well and gave no space for the midfield to link up with Leandro or Ienaga, who were rarely seen all game, particularly in the 1st half. In the 16th minute, Kyoto went close, again shooting just wide. Just a minute later, Gamba had some nice build-up which led to a corner. Endo naturally took it, making Oh scramble in goal to prevent it going in directly. This was part of a five corner streak, ending in Niwa heading over from just three yards – the make-shift right-back should have done better.
This was as good as it got for Gamba, with Kyoto taking control and on the 24th minute, they scored. A free kick from the right was won and sent in to the box with the ball coming back to the unmarked captain of Sanga, Ando, who pulled off an exquisite volley which gave Fujigaya no chance. Gamba failed to win the first or second ball and left three Kyoto players unmarked.
With the goal conceded, Gamba failed to adopt Kyoto’s pressing play and let them control the game. Sanga started to pull the defence all over the place, with Iwashita and Konno miles apart. Just before half time, Bajalica was booked for a foul on Ienaga which would become important later. Nonetheless, they had simply stopped Gamba’s own style of play and had used the results to achieve a deserved 1-0 lead at half-time, limiting Gamba to just a few half-chances.
The second half started where the first half had ended. Kyoto continually held a high line but Gamba’s attackers, mainly Kurata, Ienaga and Leandro, failed to stay onside. If they had done otherwise, there was always a possibility to score. Yet it was Sanga who scored, with the ever-dangerous Yamase beating Fujigaya but not the post, with the ball rebounding to Niwa, who strangely decided to shield the ball, which ultimately allowed Miyayoshi poke the ball in. Offside? A foul on Niwa? It seemed that Miyayoshi may have been offside, but if was for a foul, then the referee made the wrong decision. The goal was not given. Soon to be the game changer. Just five minutes late, Miyayoshi looked to beat Fujigaya, but his header was right above the keeper, forcing a credible save. And he did it again moments later when Sanga had a free-kick on the right, crossing in for an attacker to get only the faintest of touches but forcing Fujigaya to block with his feet.
Then Gamba woke up. Captain Endo, who had been subdued by the Kyoto pressure, finally burst into the box on the right, controlling a pass to an unmarked Abe on the edge of the area to pass the ball into the net on the 60th minute. The keeper got a hand to it, but not enough. Then things got crazy. Only a minute later, Kyoto got caught-out on the break, with Ienaga finding Leandro on the left, injecting some pace into the play and being taken down by Someya. No doubts about that, and no doubts that he’d score, sending Oh the wrong way and placing the ball in the bottom-left corner from the penalty spot.
But this is Gamba. A few defensive mix-ups could have cost an immediate equaliser. Kyoto resumed their pressing play, infuriating Ienaga who got booked for kicking the ball away. Frustrated, he was subbed on the 74th minute for Futagawa, but not before Niwa’s poor day almost let Yamase score. Kyoto looked for the equaliser, bringing-off Komai and Mitsuhira and bringing on Nakamura and Kubo. The latter came on in the 80th minute and immediately made an impact, picking up the ball 30 yards from goal, driving at the defence and passing the ball wide, for the cross to be set-up for the impressive and unmarked Yamase to slide the ball through several bodies and passed the helpless Fujigaya. Deserved.
Nakamura was booked in the 83rd minute, the silent Kurata was taken out for Hirai to make his return to the team just moments later, but Kyoto still controlled. Seconds into three minutes of stoppage time, with Nakamura slid a ball through the middle of defence, which was habitually all over the shop, allowing Kubo to sneak in behind and beat the impressive but unprotected Fujigaya, and surely claiming the away team a deserved win.
Wrong. Hasegawa sent on Paulinho for Abe and this proved dividends. He picked up the ball from a Futagawa pass, turned the defender and was taken down by Bajalica. Penalty Kick! Bajalica sent-off for his second booking. The captain stepped up and rattled the ball off the underside of the bar, giving Oh no chance, even if he did go the right way.
Game over. A shocking performance yielded a valuable point. Kyoto should have won but their young team will need to learn how to see a game out. As for Gamba, they have a new manage but it looked like the same old problem. A record 5th straight home draw, 17 months without a home clean sheet and Ienaga had a poor 100th league appearance for Gamba. But last season they would have lost that. So credit to them for getting the point. Kyoto will do well this year.
Man of the Match:
Koji Yamase – Kyoto Sanga. A constant thorn going forward and thoroughly deserved his goal. Having joined over the winter from J1 side Yokohama F.Marinos, it looks like Kyoto have found a gem which may add something they lacked from last season. The team was a delight to watch.
Gamba Man of the Match:
Yosuke Fujigaya. Unprotected but impressive, Fujigaya has always had his critics. Although he conceded three, none were his fault and he kept Gamba in it when Kyoto pressed for their second at 1-0. He was commanding and seemed confident. Let’s hope we have the old Fujigaya back.
Where it leaves both teams:
Kyoto will be disappointed with just a draw, Gamba probably relieved. With many of the main contenders dropping points on the opening day, both will be reasonably happy not to lose. Kyoto play the less-than-impressive Tokyo Verdy who lost at home to Avispa Fukuoka on matchday 1 – you would expect Kyoto to beat Verdy. As for Gamba, we have a trip to newly-promoted V-Varen Nagasaki who got a great draw away to Fagiano Okayama. Another big test of Gamba’s metal and determination.