Gamba 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.
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.
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.