V-Varen Nagasaki’s first ever home game in the J.League saw them pitted against our big name love called Gamba Osaka in front of 18,153 spectators at the magnificent Nagasaki Athletic Stadium. Their fans saw the best of Gamba for the first 80 minutes and the worst of Gamba in the last 10 minutes which saw us eventually run out 3-1 winners. The proverbial banana skin was dodged but the team once again failed to keep a clean sheet. Nonetheless, 3 points in the bag back to Banpaku.
The manager, Kenta Hasegawa, was forced into a couple of changes due to illnesses to both Leandro and Ienaga. In came the veteran Futagawa and recently returned from Albirex Niigata and club top scorer in 2010 Shoki Hirai. Kurata moved from the left to be the main support for Hirai whilst Futagawa took over the left-hand side. Kenta stuck with the same backline that leaked three against Kyoto. This game was a chance to show everyone that we can survive without Leandro in particular, and they certainly did.
As for Nagasaki, they kept the same starting eleven that saw two points fall out of their grasp last week against Fagiano Okayama in an impressive 1-1 draw, which should have seen all 3 points back in Nagasaki.
V-Varen Nagasaki XI: Iwamaru, Fujii, Yamaguchi, Takasugi, Ogasawara, Inoue, Iwama, Furube, Kanazaki, Sato, Kono.
V-Varen Nagasaki SUBS: Kanayama, Shimoda, Yamada, Maeda, Kanehisa, Sato, Mizunaga.
Gamba Osaka XI: Fujigaya, Niwa, Iwashita, Konno, Fujiharu, Endo, Myojin, Futagawa, Abe, Kurata, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka SUBS v V-Varen Nagasaki: Kimura, Hoshihara, Nishino, Takei, Okazaki, Paulinho, Kawanishi.
Gamba got proceedings underway for the 13:00 JST kick-off, kicking from left-to-right. And the team settled much the quicker of the two, with immediate high pressure on the Nagasaki players whenever they got the ball. It looked as though they had learnt not to sit-off the opposition from last week’s domination by Kyoto. The same cannot be said about Nagasaki, who dangerously let Gamba take the ball and play around as they wished. Within the first ten minutes, Abe had fired just wide from 20 yards whilst Kurata was one-on-one with the last defender but over hit the ball when running with it. Nagasaki’s first chance came in the 8th minute, a low cross being well parried by a confident Fujigaya. Three minutes later, Gamba were back on top but Myojin fired over from 20 yards after good exchanges down the left. And it was from that side that Gamba got their goal, albeit not through hard work on their part. The Nagasaki goalkeeper, Iwamaru, who was at fault last weekend for the last-minute equaliser for Okayama, inexplicably failed to a catch a Futagawa cross directed for Hirai. The keeper managed to push it onto Hirai (maybe his arm) and from the side of the 6 yard box, Hirai unknowingly got the first goal of the match. Bizarre. The goal had been on the cards because of the amount of space afforded to Gamba, along with such a huge pitch, but not like that. But you take what you’re given, right?
After that, Nagasaki had a couple of chances to hit the target but Gamba defended well and resolutely, especially Konno, whose positional sense and anticipation was spot on. A new tactic saw Gamba deploy a “zonal” marking system at corners. Although I prefer a man-to-man system, the results showed that maybe we are much more comfortable with the zonal system and all corners were dealt with without allowing a free header on goal. To add to this, Gamba were more than happy to send the ball all the way back to Fujigaya so as to keep the ball. This was especially prevalent in the first half.
And then we scored again, in the 24th minute. Futagawa picked the ball up from Kurata just inside our own half and sliced through the three central defenders of Nagasaki, who were so high up the pitch, with one simple through ball, allowing Hirai to run through on goal. One of the centre-halves got back to him and pressured him, but he made no mistake, slotting the ball into the bottom left corner as Iwamaru was stuck on his six yard line.
Gamba was in heaven and they continued to probe and pass around the passive Nagasaki midfield. Futagawa was the most impressive, sending a lovely ball over the top for Kurata, who had strayed offside. The former would add his name to the score sheet in the 35th minute after nearly two minutes of passing play ended with Gamba’s only corner of the match. Endo played it short and received it back, laid the ball off to an unmarked Futagawa taking a touch and rifling the ball in from 25 yards. A deserved goal and even with our defence, it was surely game over.
Fujiharu almost added a fourth in the 39th minute, being just a whisker away from the bottom corner of the goal whilst V-Varen started to shoot, but only straight at the passenger that was Fujigaya. 3-0 to Gamba at half-time and a rather disappointing turn up by the Nagasaki players. I expected them to do what Kyoto did to us, but they did the complete opposite. It was almost like they were in awe of their opposition.
They came out in the second half with more fight and determination. They took off Iwama and brought on Kanakubo and they quickly caught Gamba out with a 3-on-2 attack which was quelled immediately by the once again impressive Konno. Gamba gave up more space in the second half, seeming a bit more relaxed and sure that they would win, allowing Fujii to take a shot right down Fujigaya’s throat and needing Konno to play super sweeper again with perfect positioning. Futagawa’s impressive afternoon came to end in the 63rd minute, to be replaced by the returning from injury Takuya Takei. Before and after the hour mark, Kurata and Abe both had shots fly far away from goal, with the latter sending one out for a throw-in five yards from the corner flag. Humorous. Kurata was then put through on goal by Endo by Iwamaru was too close to him for him to get the ball beyond him.
It was in the 70th minute that Gamba started to really slack off and give Nagasaki a chance. Fujiharu was caught out on the left and allowed Kono to shoot on goal, but it was always rising. Konno then prevented another attack from getting anywhere, smartly done as always. Nagasaki then subbed Kono out for Mizunaga, whilst Hirai had to be content with a brace as he was replaced by Paulinho. Mizunaga immediately tested Fujigaya with a low header from the back post, but this was a warm-up act for his goal just a moment later. Konno once again took control of a defensive situation near the half-way line but a misplaced pass conceded possession to Nagasaki. A ball was played over the top for Mizunaga, who had caught Iwashita unawares and in the wrong position to cover for his teammate, trying to play offside when he would have better to follow Mizunaga, and he ran through on goal and placed it past a defenceless Fujigaya, 80 minutes gone. Will he ever get a clean sheet again?
V-Varen made their final substitution, taking off Kanazaki and bringing on their other Sato. They completely went crazy and threw the kitchen sink at Gamba, who could just about deal with the incessant pressure. Fujiharu’s somewhat average day could have got a lot worse if it hadn’t been for a superb save from Fujigaya, sending his suicidal touch behind for a corner. Konno then had to do it one final time, superbly positioning himself to prevent the final ball from working out for Nagasaki. Into the second of two additional minutes, a ball from the left somehow evaded the incoming and flying attackers even when Konno was not there to stop them. Somehow, it remained 3-1; Gamba breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The end was messy after our largely excellent domination of the J.League newcomers who were too kind to give Gamba the space we need to make chances and score goals. A lot of our passing place was excellent and our ball retention was for the most part superb. Questions marks are still being raised about our ability to keep a clean sheet and stay alert for 90 minutes and Fujigaya won’t thank his defence for that. Nonetheless, this potential upset was well avoided and this first win is much welcomed by all fans. As for Nagasaki, they need to learn quickly that they cannot allow the big boys to bully them; yet when they went for it, they looked like they could trouble anyone. They will not be relegated, that is for sure.
Man of the Match:
Takahiro Futagawa. Of course most people will say that Hirai was man-of-the-match because he scored two goals (as the Japanese TV did) but Futagawa was much more impressive. He was a constant threat on the left-hand side. He was fortunate with his first assist but his second was clinical as he took advantage of lax defending. He topped his performance off with a 25 yard belter and was subbed on the 63rd minute. A top performance having played just 20 minutes last week after injury. Yasuyuki Konno was a close 2nd place candidate and he merits recognition for his experienced, excellent defensive display.
Where it leaves both teams:
The win sends Gamba up to 3rd place, albeit at this early stage, with the best strike force but the 5th worse defence. Only Kobe and Fukuoka have taken maximum points so we should be positive and keep looking up. As for Nagasaki, they slide down to 19th but show they have more than enough quality to stay in the league.
Gamba’s next game is at home to promotion place contenders Yokohama FC, who faltered to a 2-2 against Tokushima Vortis at home. They have also taken 4 points from six – this game will be interesting and maybe tell us who is the stronger. As for Nagasaki, they hit the road and play massive hangover team Montedio Yamagata. They will expect, as I do, that a draw is the minimum that they should bring back from the north-east.