Match Report – 28/04/2013 – J2: Section 11 – Gamba Osaka 1-1 Gainare Tottori

Congratulations to Gainare Tottori for coming to Banpaku with a game plan that worked a treated and earned them a deserved 1-1 draw against a lethargic Gamba Osaka who were unable to break down a resilient defence, whilst it was their own defence (Niwa) that caused its own problems in front of a wonderful 16,803 people at Banpaku.

Gamba were forced into one (costly) change at the back as Nishino was unable to recover from the knock that he picked up during the week, trading places with my least favourite player Daiki Niwa. Nishino was able to make the bench which stayed the same apart from that change. Iwashita and Leandro both managed to shrug off their midweek injuries to make it into an otherwise consistent starting eleven.

Gainare made 2 changes from the team that lost 3-0 last weekend to Kyoto Sanga – out went Miura and Yoshino (the latter not even on the bench), both being changed for defenders in like-for-like changes that saw Ozaki and Mori slot into their recently fragile defence, with Yokotake moving to midfield. They stuck to the same 4-1-4-1 formation, just like last weekend’s match, but they generally had at least 9 players behind the ball with their defence and midfield not that far apart. It was up to Gamba to get in-between those lines if they were to have any chance of scoring. Nonetheless, with our firepower, you would have expected us to score a few.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Endo, Konno, Ienaga, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Nishino, Abe, Okazaki, Uchida, Kawanishi.
Gainare Tottori XI – Sugimoto, Ozaki, Nagira, Mori, Takeda, Okuyama, Yokodake, Tanaka, Nagasato, Sanenobu, Kubo.
Gainare Tottori Subs – Kobari, Miura, Tsurumi, Hirota, Okano, Okamoto, Sumita.

Gamba Osaka1st Half:
The first half started in typical Gamba fashion, with Fujiharu getting in-behind the defence immediately but his control let him down in what would be a macrocosm of the match for the boys in blue and black. Things seemed bright though as Leandro won a free kick on the edge of the area just a minute later, but Endo’s shot almost seemed to have been lobbed as it sailed harmlessly over the bar. Tottori certainly bided their time and were patient when going on the counter attack but they struggled to hold onto the ball for any real length of time, generally with the ball being over hit or having a poor pass ending the attacks.

Gamba were also patient but chances were at a premium as Tottori suffocated the space, which forced a Kurata shot away from goal after said patient play. Fujiharu did get a cross in towards Leandro but bad communication between himself and Ienaga lost the ball as both of them attacked it. Futagawa then also had a shot well blocked in the 15th minute whilst Kaji blazed one high, wide and not so handsome just a moment later. It was all Gamba with their passing football but they lacked the penetration necessary to get through a stubborn Tottori side whose aim was to get in at half-time level. Gamba helped them out a bit with fairly poor control by Ienaga and Futagawa, who were too slow and not precise enough.

Into the 26th minute and Tottori did have a decent chance from a cross but Endo was on hand to flick the cross away. This was Tottori’s golden period of Golden Week as they were secure at the back, even if Sugimoto did punch Leandro only after punching the ball away from a ball over the top. Their first chance came in the 36th minute as Iwashita was dragged out of position to the left and Niwa failed to cover him. The precise pass into the box on the side came to striker Kubo whose shot was blocked well from Kaji who did cover Niwa, with Fujigaya sliding out with his feet to prevent the man at the back getting a touch to get the ball past him. These warning signs were not heeded as Ienaga lost the ball in midfield in the 41st minute – the hoofed ball should have been food and drink for Niwa but he managed to jump under the ball and let in Kubo, only for Iwashita to cover him properly and prevent Kubo from ending his 45 yard sprint into the box with a goal.

With very little action – and the most exciting/nerve-wracking of it coming from Gainare – Gamba had not shown any flexibility in attack, whilst the rigid defence of the opposition seemed almost too tricky for Gamba to get past. There was a lack of shooting from Gamba as Sugimoto was not really tested – bigger things were expected for the second half.

Gainare Tottori2nd Half:
The half started as the first half ended, with Futagawa having bad control whilst Gamba could not test out Sugimoto in the Tottori goal. Fujiharu did set-up Futagawa in the 53rd minute but under pressure, he only managed to get his header down the throat of the untroubled keeper. It seemed like Tottori was under some decent pressure from this moment, again without too much going at their goalkeeper. So what did they do in response? They scored. They won a throw-in and kept it near the corner on the right hand-side with Fujiharu limply supported by Endo, who did not help him to press the attackers. Tottori made some space and got to the by-line and crossed for Kubo, who had lost the headless Niwa in the middle, which allowed the striker to flick a header into the opposite corner to give the visitors a deserved lead, but not due to their overall attacking play. They had played the game well and were strategically sound. 1-0 after 57 minutes – would Gamba wake up?

Hasegawa certainly did as he took off the ineffective wingers of Futagawa and Ienaga for a more aggressive, less passing and more energetic pair in Hiroyuki Abe and Shota Kawanishi, with Kurata moving to the left as the latter joined the quiet Leandro up top. Sanenobu went off for Sumida to give the visitors some fresh legs a few minutes before that. Gamba’s pair linked up immediately in the 66th minute but Kawanishi rushed his shot in some space and did not bother Sugimoto. At least there was some aggression which created some space.

Gamba got more chances, half chances, through Fujiharu, Abe and Kawanishi but the final ball did not quite make it. Tottori should have buried the match in the 74th minute after winning a free kick in the same area they scored their goal. It was originally cleared well by the Gamba defence but a lay-off on the edge of the area to Okuyama, who crashed his shot off the bar. Fujigaya was well beaten and Gamba should have been. Immediately, with space in behind Tottori, Kaji crossed towards Leandro on the counter attack and the defender Nagira mistimed his jump. The ball fell to Leandro who managed to squeeze the ball past the rushing Sugimoto from 7 yards, his shot going in off the post. Inches saved Gamba then Tottori got exposed just once after they should have scored again and Leandro’s shot was put in the goal thanks to the edge of the post. Talk about small spaces in distance and time, eh?

Gamba seemed to sense blood with Abe heading straight at Sugimoto with a decent chance whilst Leandro crossed for Kawanishi to dive in at the far post, but the defender just flicked it away from him. English referee James Adcock still called a goal kick though. Leandro then dived to try and win a penalty a minute later and deservedly got a yellow card. A huge blow came when Iwashita slowly made his way off the pitch after injuring some part of his leg although he did try to play on. He was replaced by Uchida in the 87th minute, whilst Nagasato made way for Hirota for Gainare.

Was there to be any last minute heroics? Abe tried but his half-volley at the back post was well parried by Sugimoto whilst his substitute buddy Kawanishi was deservedly booked for a wild lunge on the touchline – a bit of ill-discipline and frustration there.

Full-time, and a poor result. After the superb Toyama performance away from last weekend, this was the complete opposite to that performance. How can a team change so much in a week? Partly down to Tottori’s tactics, but Gamba should really have had enough to beat such opposition, without trying to be offensive to Tottori. The clean sheet was not recorded and is that down to the loss of Nishino or the inclusion of Niwa? Furthermore, if Iwashita’s injury is serious, does that mean Niwa will continue in defence? The biggest problem was that Gamba have had many teams do the same as Tottori did and they have yet to find a solution to it. At the moment, it seems like we can only play one way – passing football – and we cannot quite get the necessary tweaks into the strategy when we need to.  At least we have still things to learn. Teams will come to Banpaku and soak up the pressure and until we work on that and work it out, we will only ever have 1 home win all season.

Man of the Match:
Hiroki Fujiharu would have been my Man of the Match had the goal for Tottori not come from his left hand-side, although we can blame Niwa and Endo (to some extent) for that goal. The game changed when the substitutes came on and added a bit of thrust and aggression into the attack and creating more spaces and more chances than any period before they came on. Out of the two, I pick Hiroyuki Abe as the best player, and he only played 25 minutes. Of course, Kawanishi was a threat and kudos to him, but Abe really forced the issue all by himself and could have had a couple of assists and goals on another day. He has had limited playing time in recent weeks thanks to the “strength” of the first eleven, but he staked a claim with the other wingers having real shockers today. He is a real prospect and showed that he can play a bigger part in the team. I would like to see Hasegawa play him against Gifu on Friday.

Where it leaves both teams:
Excluding V-Varen Nagasaki who play on Monday, it was a day for drawing at the top of the table. Vissel Kobe were cruising against Fagiano Okayama but let a 3-0 lead slip after Okayama maintained their undefeated record by scoring 3 goals in the last 6 minutes of the match plus stoppage time to maintain their 5 point gap. Kyoto Sanga also suffered a 3-3 draw after being 2-0 up and then falling to 3-2 behind against JEF United before equalling the score late on. Tochigi SC were the biggest winners as they moved to 20 points after a 2-0 win against a dire Kitakyushu. The most important thing is that Gamba are still in 2nd place and are still unbeaten. Nagasaki can join them on 21 points with a win over Ehime FC on Monday.

As for Tottori, they stay in 17th place after teams below them all took points (except Kitakyushu) and this well-earned point ended their 3 match beaten streak and stopped the 3 goals-conceded-in-each-away-game-for-the-last-three-matches rot. They probably will not be relegated but will still probably be part of the mini-league at the bottom of the table. Excellent result for them today and they will take a lot of confidence back to Tottori as they prepare to take on a humiliated Tokushima Vortis, who lost to Gunma 4-1.

Gamba must shrug this off and be adaptable against another team that will come and sit in defence on Friday in the form of FC Gifu. If they do not win there, then I quit!

Match Preview – 28/04/2013 – J2: Section 11 – Gamba Osaka v Gainare Tottori

Kyoto Sanga v Gainare Tottori

Having sent Kataller Toyama down with a convincing and thoroughly deserved 4-0 win, along with a wonderful performance, Gamba will want to get another home win under their belts, this time against Gainare Tottori, to dispel any final worries of their home form, whilst building upon the 4 clean sheets in a row and a Kurata-Leandro partnership that got the 4 goals last time out. Kick-off on Sunday will be at 16:00 local time at good old Banpaku.

The two teams have yet to play each other in a competitive match; they did have 2 games against each other during pre-season in 2 consecutive days. In the first match, Gamba played their strongest team and took a solid 5-0 win, with goals coming from Leandro, Abe, an own-goal, Ienaga and Paulinho. The game just a day later, this time at Banpaku instead of the Chubu Yajin Stadium, Shota Kawanishi scored the only goal of the game for a 1-0 Gamba win.

By now, we all should know how Gamba are doing and what the recent results have been. If we look at Gainare’s form this season, it is a tale of 2 halves from the first 10 matches. They were unbeaten in their first 5 matches, winning 2 and drawing 3 matches, keeping a clean sheet against a poor Kataller Toyama side. The next 5 games are probably closer to what Tottori will actually do this season, with 4 defeats and 1 draw; during this time, we saw them concede 3 goals in each away match, scoring just 1 in reply in those matches. They have also failed to score in their last 4 matches, leading to a slump from 2nd place at the end of match day 5 all the way down to 17th place after match day 10. You would expect them to arrive at Banpaku with the mind-set of defending to get onto the counter attack. If that works, then I quit blogging (joking, but it would be awful). You can see the team that started against and lost to Kyoto Sanga last weekend to your right.

Gamba Osaka

With Iwashita, Nishino and Leandro all picking up knocks during the week, Kenta will be hoping they pull through for the match. Leandro seems like he will make it whilst Niwa can deputise if either centre-back fails to make it. Even though there are these small injuries, along with Myojin (potentially still injured), Paulinho and Sato, the team looks healthy and hungry for more of the same dazzling performances. The returns from injury of Oh Jae-Suk and Takuya Takei give a lot more chances in the way of changes, although there is no way I could see more than 1 change from the team that destroyed Kataller Toyama. The defence that has allowed just 7 shots to go on target in the last 4 clean sheet matches will stay the same, and the only possible change would be allowing Futagawa a rest, but that would be unfair given his good form recently. I would expect the same team, as always, and the bench to get stronger week after week. My prediction is to the left.

With the team being the same week-in, week-out, it will not be long before I run out of players in the starting eleven to tell you to watch and I will have to circle again. Anyhow, myself and Sebi said on our podcast that he seemed to be joining in the attacks more often and he was getting smarter with his play, so please keep your watchful eyes on Akira Kaji. After suffering a nightmarish season last year, he made it back against Yokohama FC and is getting better every week. The veteran is joining with attacks superbly down the right flank and his combination plays with Ienaga and Endo in particular emit intelligence. His last goal for Gamba came back at the start of the 2010 season against Kashima Antlers in the Super Cup defeat, but I am focussing on more assists for Akira. He has one (fortunate) assist to his name this season but I expect more will come from him as the games get ticked off. He is one of my favourite players, so I want only the best and more for him!

I think this will be a case of how many Gamba can get to be honest. It will put them in good stead for the game against Gifu next Friday before focussing on Kobe the following Monday. I will say anything from 3-0 and onwards will have been a good day at the office. Gamba will want to get the goals quickly and efficiently so that players can earn an early rest whilst allowing others to get some playing time, especially those who have just come back from injury or have little experience. Gainare will try to make it hard for us to break them down but with all that attacking talent and fluidity that our attack holds right now, they should surely be seeing how long they can resist the temptation of conceding a goal. It looks like this match could be any result in our favour and with Tottori’s lack of form right now, they better hope the score line is low. Join us on twitter for commentary of the game, play-by-play.

Takashi Usami will leave Hoffenheim

宇佐美貴史

Hoffenheim have decided against taking up the option to buy Takashi Usami from Gamba Osaka, from whom he joined on loan last summer after a miserable time the previous season at German giants Bayern Munich.

Seen as one of the rising talents of Japan, he made his debut for Gamba in the 2009 ACL Group Stage against FC Seoul, also scoring in that match. He had just turned 17 at the time and he turned out to be one of the integral parts of the Gamba team on the left side, playing a total of 66 games in all competitions with an impressive total of 17 goals.

Bayern Munich came knocking on the Banpaku door for Usami in 2011 and he left on loan during the middle of that season for the entire 2011-12 German season. He was limited in terms of playing time, getting just 3 outings in the league and 1 outing each in the DFB Pokal Cup and the Champions League, tallying 1 goal that season. He was an unused substitute for Bayern in their defeat to Chelsea in the Champions League final, although he was just making up the numbers thanks to suspensions and injuries to key players.

His loan was not extended there so Hoffenheim gave him the chance to stay in Germany. The season started brightly for Takashi, scoring a stunning solo effort against Stuttgart and scoring his first goal in a 5-3 defeat to SC Freiburg. Things turned sour as Hoffenheim slid down the table and eventually into the relegation zone, with Takashi’s flair not wanted in a team battling at the bottom. The new manager Markus Gisdol has stated that Usami’s chances of playing the last few games are very slim.

They had the opportunity to buy Takashi at the end of his loan deal for around €3 million (¥390 million, £2.5 million, US$3.9 million) but that will not happen. His loan ends on the 30th June and with only 6 months left on his contract, along with not impressing during his time in Germany, it looks likely that he will have to return to Banpaku. He could return for the away match against FC Gifu (which I will be going to), if everything goes our way.

It is a shame that such a talented player has been dragged through the mud and wasted 2 years of his footballing career in terms of playing time, but he would have learnt a lot from the experience and, as he will turn 21 next month, he has plenty of time to try again in the future. For now, he should come back to Banpaku and get us back home for 2014. What do you think?

With thanks to vinciperosaka.com for some of these details.

Match Report – 21/04/2013 – J2: Section 10 – Kataller Toyama 0-4 Gamba Osaka

Well what can you say about that? Outclassed, exposed, tactically weak and never in it – I am talking about Kataller Toyama of course. Gamba hit 3 back-to-back wins, 4 back-to-back clean sheets and 10 unbeaten for the season in a beautiful display of possession football that had the crowd of 13,639 in awe and in love with the amazing Gamba Osaka.

Toyama came into this match with the same side that beat FC Gifu on Wednesday right at the death and had not lost to the other 2 Kansai clubs at home this season, also without conceding against them. Their formation was a 3-1-4-2, with this lack of width and inability to cover a fluid frontline costing them big time.

Gamba made the one expected change of Konno coming back in for Uchida who dropped to the bench. Also on the bench was Okazaki and for the first time in his Gamba career, Oh Jae-Suk, who finally made an appearance in the 18 man squad after picking up an injury during the winter. Out dropped Hoshihara, Takei and Paulinho, the latter with an injury, whilst Shoki Hirai’s attitude had once again prevented him from making the bench.

Kataller Toyama XI – Morita, Asuke, Hiraide, Funatsu, Mori, Kuniyoshi, Kim, Seo, Kimura, Asahi, Nishikawa.
Kataller Toyama Subs – Iida, Ikehata, Yoshii, Oyama, Onishi, Kimoto, Kokeguchi.
Gamba Osaka XI: Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Endo, Konno, Ienaga, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs: Kimura, Oh, Niwa, Abe, Okazaki, Uchida, Kawanishi.

Kataller Toyama

1st Half:
I said for the Yamaga match on Wednesday that we needed an early goal to get us settled and the players did the same thing in this match but at the lightning speed of 42 seconds. Ienaga was out on the right and he played a simple pass to Shu Kurata who got the ball out of his feet and into space to lash a shot across goal from 20 yards that bobbled on the slightly wet surface. The goalkeeper Morita got down to push it away but poorly, it was not out of danger, as he laid it into Leandro’s path to tap in with his left foot from 4 yards. You can blame the goalkeeper as much as you like, but a 3-match-run-with-no-goals Leandro needed something like that and he gobbled it up. The perfect start, as they say.

For the next 15 minutes or so, Kataller found it difficult to get out of their own half and retain the ball à la Yamaga on Wednesday. They were almost determined to give Leandro another goal after confusion by the already shaky Morita and his defence but they managed to sort it out before the Brazilian added another. It was the right side that was most fruitful for Gamba during this period, with Ienaga running the show. He was fouled down that side but got a good advantage, allowing him to run to the edge of the box and pick out Futagawa in the middle but he was not quick enough in getting his shot away. All this in the first 10 minutes. Toyama were simply playing too high up the field and not closing down the spaces that Gamba created. It was teacher against pupil – it was that one-sided. The teacher showed them how to play perfect passing, possession football.

Into the 11th minute and Kimura won a free-kick but also a booking for the hosts whilst in the 13th minute, Kurata dispossessed his defender after he slipped trying to clear the ball. Shu picked out Leandro in the middle, and with his back to the goal, he passed to the incoming Ienaga from a similar area to Kurata’s shot that set-up Leandro, but his shot was blocked and came back off him for a goal kick. The high line from Toyama almost allowed Kurata to sneak in behind in the 18th minute but he was flagged offside. Would Kataller heed the warning signs? They at least had a decent spell going forward after Kim played a ball over the top of the defence for Nishikawa – Iwashita believed Fujigaya should have come to collect, and rightly so, but Nishino and Kaji mopped up the danger. Iwashita then gave away silly free-kick just outside the area to the side but it was punched clear by Fujigaya.

Then that high line was finally punished in the 26th minute. Kataller misplaced a pass in midfield and Konno quickly shifted the ball to Kurata – he took 2 touches, one to turn around and the other to then play a superb through ball to Leandro in-between 2 of the centre-halves and this time we were onside. The Brazilian raced through on goal but he hit a tame shot at Morita, whose day was to get worse as his parry went straight back to the Brazilian who slid it into the opposite corner from 2 yards to make it 2-0 to Gamba after just over 25 minutes played. Excellent by Kurata with the pass and it was Leandro’s day again with a fortunate but well-earned parry straight to him. The warning signals had failed to go off for Toyama and they paid the price.

Gamba Osaka

The boys in white simply wanted more and their desire shone through, with every player determined to get the ball back as quickly as possible to get back on the attack, even if it meant running 30 yards extra – even Ienaga was getting back into his own half to win the ball back, making several impressive tackles. Fujiharu was released down the left in the 29th minute and picked Leandro out at the back post, who calmly headed into the path of Ienaga, but his right-footed shot was pushed behind for a corner. Toyama did make a decent chance in the 33rd minute but the shot in space from the edge of the area was never going to test a somewhat pedestrian Fujigaya. Leandro then almost repaid the faith to Kurata but he missed from 4 yards under pressure from the defence. Fujiharu almost completed an exquisite solo run down the left, beating 2 of the 3 defenders before being crowded out. But the point was the confidence. Full of it and looking brilliant. Simply an amazing half by our boys even if Toyama were their own worst enemy. The question was how many more would we score?

2nd Half:
In order to stop the rot, Toyama needed a change. They took off defensive midfielder Mori for Kokeguchi, who swiftly tried his luck from the corner of the penalty area but he was rather optimistic with the shot flying well over the top. Kuniyoshi then tried from range but he dragged his shot wide. Once again, the opposition were getting nowhere near the target with their constant long range shooting. Toyama kept going and after some decent play, Konno won the ball back and gave it to Leandro who in turn fed Kurata but he was well tackled on the counter attack.

After this short period of somewhat sustained pressure from the hosts, Gamba got back to business. Toyama persisted with the high line which just about caught Ienaga offside in the 55th minute, whilst Leandro went down the left a moment later but was stopped before he could cause chaos. Kurata then whipped in a ball from the right in-between the defender and the goalkeeper with a Gamba player behind waiting to pounce, but the defender scooped the ball over his bar, just about. Wonderful cross, but nothing to dwell on as Kataller got in down the left a minute later only to have the shot fired right above Fujigaya who pushed it well away from danger.

Into the last half an hour and both teams made changes in the 64th minute. Kim made way for Oyama for the hosts whilst Abe came on for Futagawa, of course. Abe go involved immediately with the play, as Leandro and Endo exchanged passes on the left, they found Abe free and Leandro continued his run into the box, with Abe deliciously picking him out, and Leandro played a smart ball in-between the 2 defenders and through on goal surely for the hat-trick.
Yet he was denied by a foul from Asuke and he won the penalty, just rewards for his determination, desire and skill in getting into the box to create the chance by himself, whilst the Toyama defence were really a 3s and 4s there. Asuke picked up a yellow card whilst Leandro picked up the ball and placing it on the spot after discussing it with the captain Endo. The Brazilian strolled up casually and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, putting his shot into the bottom-right of the goal and securing his hat-trick. What can you say about that? Pure excellence all game and a deserved hat-trick.

Kataller reacted by taking off Kuniyoshi for Kimoto in the 74th minute but he had hardly got onto the pitch when Kurata made it 4-0. Ienaga popped-up on the left this time and played a fantastic ball down the side to the marauding Fujiharu who was now in-behind the once again suicidal high defence. He cut in and looked up to find Leandro at the back post but he instead picked out Kurata on the edge of the area, who took one touch in so much space and placed the ball past into the bottom left corner and past the helpless Morita in goal. A macrocosm of the match in that move.

That was it for Kurata as he was taken out for Kawanishi. A fantastic performance again by Shu, getting 2 assists and a goal. His partnership with Leandro is really blossoming and clicking more and more as every match is played. Leandro was taken out in the 85th minute for Uchida as the game was gone and he will take great confidence going forward with minnows Tottori and Gifu coming up – more goals for sure.

In-between all this, Kaji picked up a booking for tugging back a Toyama player but the game was trudging to an inevitable 4-0 away win. Endo moved forward behind Kawanishi for the final few minutes and had one chance after bursting into the box down the right but he scuffed his only chance well wide of the far post. Ienaga pulled off some filthy, beautiful skill to woo this supporter – the game really died when Kurata scored in terms of action.

Full time and 4-0 to our men. The defence hardly had anything to do and that was down to the team ethic whilst the forward players destroyed a tactical poor Kataller Toyama. Nonetheless, amazing football and a brilliant result.

Man of the Match:
A pretty obvious choice this week. Of course, it is Leandro. He was the predator today and everything went his way. He was in the right place at the right time for the first goal which put to bed any worries he may have had; the second goal was fantastic thanks to his movement from the through-ball and the rebound fell nicely to him; his third goal was made by his desire to get into the box and score (and being fouled in the process). Not just the goals shone through though – he worked hard, coming left and right and into midfield whilst holding the play up well and wreaking havoc in the Toyama back line. He got everyone else involved and after going 3 games without a goal, he showed his class and good mentality, style and calmness after that, especially the penalty.

Everyone was brilliant today – Kurata got 2 assists and a goal whilst Fujiharu, as I tipped him to in my preview, got forward with ease and also got an assist, whilst Ienaga was superb on the right wing going forward and defending. A solid performance by every squad member. Leandro was just that little bit extra special today.

Where it leaves both teams:
With the win, Gamba made 2nd place their own as V-Varen Nagasaki played out a goalless draw against an improving Consadole Sapporo. We now have 20 points but are still 5 points behind leaders Vissel Kobe after they secured a late win against struggling Yokohama FC. Fagiano moved behind Gamba on 18 points after their win against Gunma, whilst Kyoto Sanga close out the top 6 after their 3-0 home win. With Tottori and Gifu coming up before the big one against Kobe, Gamba will be looking to rack-up the goals and the points to keep the pressure on.

Toyama fall down to 13th on 14 points and now have a negative goal difference. They need to learn quickly that they cannot be so open tactically against a fluid team like Gamba and they play another big team next week, Tokyo Verdy, again at home. Verdy’s match with Matsumoto Yamaga was postponed due to SNOW. Sitting in mid-table would be snapped up by the club at the end of the year and they do not seem any worse than Gunma or Gifu so they will be safe this season. We shall have to see if they have learnt from their errors today in their future games.

Stats
Kataller Toyama 0-4 Gamba Osaka

Match Preview – 21/04/2013 – J2: Section 10 – Kataller Toyama v Gamba Osaka

With 3 clean sheets in a row, 2 wins in a row, unbeaten so far and having finally won at home for the first time in 8 months, Gamba Osaka head to coast city of Toyama full of confidence and security in their performances. We will be looking to get 3 league wins in a row for the first time since 10th September 2011, after wins against Kawasaki Frontale (6-3), Kashiwa Reysol (2-0), Vissel Kobe (4-0) and Omiya Ardija (2-0) in a 4 game winning streak. This game will be held at the Toyama Athletic Stadium at 16:00 local time.

Gamba have never ventured to play Kataller Toyama before given that the side only made it into J2 in 2009. It was in that season that they have had their highest-placed finish of 13th, with last season being their worst, finishing in 19th place.

FC Gifu v Kataller ToyamaThey have looked promising this season, coming into this match in 9th place with 14 points. They have won 2, drew 1 and lost 1 at home but have kept clean sheets in the games they avoided defeat. Gamba’s Kansai rivals Kyoto Sanga and Vissel Kobe have both failed to muster a goal in their visits to Toyama, so we may just have to expect the same this weekend. Nevertheless, the team has only managed to score 9 goals in 9 games so far; these stats would suggest a tight match, and given Gamba’s defensive solidity and wasteful frontline, this opinion is valid. Especially as Gamba have yet to lose on the road and dropped points only after a shocking 5 minutes in Kumamoto. The positive thing for Gamba is that they are still making chances whilst preventing the opposition from doing so.

Toyama come into this match after a tight away win against FC Gifu. They seemed to have dropped 2 points right at the end after taking a 2 goal lead to the bottom-placed team. Desmond and Nakashima thought they’d secured a point after goals in the 84th and 88th minutes for the hosts, but Funatsu recovered the lead for the away team in the 92nd minute. You can see the team that got those important 3 points to your left. You would expect them to keep the same side.

As for Gamba, injury to Paulinho and with Hirai struggling with an attitude problem (not an injury as we first thought), the strike force is looking thin. Akihiro Sato will still not be back until June, so responsibility of back-up to Leandro comes from Kawanishi and Hoshihara, even though the latter has been designated as a wing-back for the season. Akihiro Ienaga can also play that position if things really do go from bad to worse. Myojin is not far off from returning from his injury that has kept him side-lined since the JEF United match in Round 5, but this may be a bit too early for a return.

The biggest question for this match is, given that Konno believes he will make it for the match on Sunday, does he take his place back from Tatsuya Uchida, who deputised well in the win at home on Wednesday? If Konno is 100% fit, then I would expect him to be back in the starting XI, no questions asked. Either way, we have good cover for him if he does not make it.

Gamba Osaka PredictionAnother thought is how to get the best out of Leandro. He has had a few really good chances that he has failed to capitalise upon, so the sooner he gets a goal the better. The team as a whole have to be a lot more accurate with their shooting – then we can have some comfortable wins. Finally, we might see Abe come in for Futagawa if the veteran magician sees this match as one too many for a week, but this is just a point more than an expectation. You can see my expected team to the right.

Hiroki Fujiharu is the man to watch this weekend. He put in the decisive ball on Wednesday that got the only goal of the game against Matsumoto and he seems to be getting back to his attacking best from left-back. He could have scored 3 goals this season from just 5 shots and has been unlucky with only having 1 assist to his name thus far. His galloping runs down the left and slow patient play when necessary is are hugely attractive qualities. His combination play is as excellent as always and I am expecting more influence from this man on the final result and away games give him more space and time to do that. So do it, Hiroki!

Even if Toyama pose many questions upon the defence and attack, I really am very confident that Gamba will get at least a 2-0 win. I am not disrespecting Toyama by any means and I expect a difficult match up there; Gamba seem too strong at the moment and the results really have not reflected that. If Leandro and Ienaga put away the abundance of chances they have been getting, it might just ease the tense strain upon the fans during the dying embers of the match. Endo will run this match quietly in the background, as always, whilst the three behind Leandro will continue to create with the support of Kaji and Fujiharu. Nishino is looking like a real gem and he should cope with whatever Toyama throw at him. I expect, and so should you, that Gamba will just be too much for Kataller. Correct the minor weaknesses in our play and the comfortable win is ours.

Match Report – 17/04/2013 – J2: Section 9 – Gamba Osaka 1-0 Matsumoto Yamaga FC

They did it! After almost 8 months, Gamba have finally won a match at home to stop the run of 8 drawn matches in a row whilst extending our unbeaten run at home to 12 games. The relief was evident after the match as the team danced in a group circle, to the happiness of around 8,000 of the 8,993 supporters there. Congratulations to our men in Blue and Black!

But once again, there was not a stream for this match and even the efforts of a great person was probably not the best idea, but we thank him for that. Therefore, this report will lack my usual detail but not my usual passion.

To the team line-ups. As promised, Kenta Hasegawa gave Tatsuya Uchida his first start of the season in place of Yasuyuki Konno, who was not even on the bench; although he assures us that he will take part on Sunday. My guess of Abe coming in for Futagawa was wrong, with the veteran keeping his place after putting in a string of impressive performances. As for the substitutes, Takei and Kawanishi returned as Hirai must have got injured on Sunday. Apart from that, continuity is the key theme from Kenta Hasegawa in recent times, and it is good to see. When he has changed the team, younger players are getting their chance, which is great to see.

As for Matsumoto Yamaga, they kept the same humiliated team that lost to FC Gifu on Sunday, hoping that the defeat would strive them on to take Gamba’s home worries to an all-time low.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Endo, Uchida, Ienaga, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Niwa, Abe, Takei, Paulinho, Kawanishi.
Matsumoto Yamaga XI – Shiroi, Tetsuto, Iio, Iida, Tatara, Iwanuma, Yoon, Tamabayashi, Park, Funayama, Nagasawa.
Matsumoto Yamaga Subs – Murayama, Kawanabe, Komatsu, Kusunose, Iio, Hitai, Shiozawa.

Gamba Osaka1st Half:
I mentioned in my match preview that Gamba would need an early goal to settle them down to the task of finally winning at home, and that was exactly what they did. Now I know all these views from Japan on this page are coming from the Gamba players. Joke. It all came from good work down the left involving Hiroki Fujiharu. In the 3rd minute, he sent in a cross to Ienaga, whose header was put wide. This was just a warning sign of what would come just a minute later. After collecting a pass from Kurata, he was given too much time and space to pick out his cross, getting it just over the head of the defender at the near post, and with Leandro lurking in a fantastic position behind Iio, he knew he had to put a foot out to stop Leandro getting a tap-in from 5 yards, but by doing so, he put it into his own net. That early goal we needed, and the luck we never got against Verdy. 1-0 to Gamba!

It was pretty much domination by Gamba from here on out without that desired second goal. Gamba had several shots after the goal to 1 for Matsumoto. Leandro was first in the 10th minute followed by Futagawa in the 16th, but his connection was not great and his shot hit the defender.  2 minutes later, Kurata played a ball to Ienaga through the middle of the pitch and he cut in but his shot missed the target. Kurata was involved again just 4 minutes later, getting in front of goal but having his shot blocked, with the rebound falling to Leandro but he could not get his shot away properly. In the 32nd minute, Gamba won a free-kick in Endo territory but his shot sailed well over the bar. A glorious chance came again from the left side through Fujiharu. His cross was misjudged by the defender at the back post which allowed Ienaga to control the ball and take it down off his chest but with the ball falling to his weaker right foot, his shot went marginally wide and over the bar. He probably should have scored and would have done so if it was on his left foot.

Futagawa had the final shot for Gamba of the half but the angle was not quite right, while Matsumoto’s only shot came at the end of the half from which they won a corner, yet that was easily dealt with by Fujigaya.

It was 1-0 at the break but Gamba’s play was fascinating. Even though they went down the right hand-side more often than not, it was the left hand side that was causing the most trouble with Fujiharu getting forward well. There was a real sense of patience, especially with Ienaga cutting in from the right often to give a simple ball to the middle, whilst Leandro was here, there and everywhere. It was fluid by Gamba and Matsumoto barely made it out of their own half. Having been so strong in this half, you just did not want the good work go to waste in the next 45.

Matsumoto Yamaga FC2nd Half:
In order to have any chance of getting a foothold in this match, Matsumoto needed to make some changes, which they did at the start of the half. Yoon and Nagasawa departed in place of Kusunose and Shiozawa. But would it work?

The short answer is no. Gamba were straight back onto the front foot again with Kurata just missing the goal in the 48th minute. He got another chance 5 minutes later after receiving a pass from Futagawa after getting round the back of the defender, but his right foot shot was blocked by the goalkeeper. In the 55th minute, Ienaga once again had a chance and once again missed the target. Less than 2 minutes later and Matsumoto had a shot, but failed to trouble Fujigaya, of course.

Tamabayashi picked up a yellow card in the 63rd minute for the visitors in what would be the only booking of the match. A couple of corners came for the hosts after good work by first Leandro and Futagawa, then Uchida and Kurata. Evidently, nothing came of these corners but Gamba were playing with confidence in what they were doing, limiting the opposition to simple saves for a newspaper reading Fujigaya in goal.

The visitors gambled in the 74th minute with their final substitution, taking off Iio for Kitai while Gamba took off Futagawa for Abe, of course, and then Ienaga for Paulinho, who lasted just 5 minutes before having to come off himself in what lust have been an injury, allowing Kawanishi to replace him. These last 2 substitutions are very interesting, as both were forward-thinking with Hasegawa evidently not worried too much about the attacking “threat” from Yamaga. They had a few corners but never troubled the solid backline that we now have, whilst Abe was customarily his confident self, going for a couple of shots in the dying embers of the match.

That was it. We had won! GAMBA HAD WON! Even though there was no stream again, I felt a strong sense of relief for the players, happiness for them, but overall a feeling that they had been long overdue with this victory. The most positive thing was that the defence was never really troubled. The absence of Konno was not a problem and whatever Uchida had to do he did. Nishino is just getting better and better and at only 19, he will definitely be one for the future (and now too). It is evident that we need to get our shooting boots on so that we can make games a bit more comfortable but that is the only worry. With the defence as strong as it is at the moment, we need only to mention it but not fixate on it. We did the job we needed to do; this is the next improvement we would like to see.

I’ve come up with some statistics based on League Matches only that are for interesting reading. I love stats, so this is for me:

Last home win v Consadole Sapporo (7-2), 25th August 2012.
Last home defeat v Yokohama F.Marinos (1-2), 14th July 2012.
Last time we won twice in a row v Nagoya Grampus (0-5) and v Consadole Sapporo (7-2), 18th August 2012 and 25th August 2012.
Last time we had clean sheets twice in a row v Montedio Yamagata (0-5) and v Kashima Antlers (1-0), 22nd October 2011 and 3rd November 2011.
Last time we won 1-0 twice in a row v Omiya Ardija and v Kashima Antlers, 3rd March 2007 and 11th March 2007.

Progression. This team may just have what it takes to get those all-important 3 points that could make the difference this season; and last season too.

Man of the Match:
Not having watched the game is a real hindrance for this part, so let’s pick EVERYONE! I am extremely proud of the team for having come through a very difficult start of the season to now be in 2nd place and looking solid. Gamba have been frustrating, annoying, useless, unlucky, fortunate, mesmerising, fantastic and world-class. The season is still young and we have a long path ahead of us if we are going to get back home to J1, but the team have shown the qualities necessary to make it a successful trip back home. The younger players, particularly Nishino, have shown that they can step in and make a difference, whilst the experienced players (except MYOJIN THE PIRATE) have shown their wide range of skill and intelligence in their play. With 3 wins in 4 games, with 3 clean sheets from those 4 games, things are looking up, and that is where we need to be aiming, whilst looking at the teams behind us seriously. I am a proud fan of Gamba Osaka, so congratulations for getting this monkey off your back, Gamba. Now express yourself wherever you go. Do your best!

Where it leaves both teams:
Gamba confirm their spot in 2nd place and go to 17 points. The gap to Vissel Kobe is still 5 points after they won 2-1 to a dogged Giravanz Kitakyushu. Gamba share their 17 points with V-Varen Nagasaki, who won away to Yokohama FC. JEF United slipped to a shock 2-0 defeat at the hands of Mito HollyHock at home whilst Kyoto Sanga struggled again and were held to a 1-1 draw with the only other unbeaten J2 team, Fagiano Okayama. Overall, another good day for Gamba with regards to their probable rivals for the season. Up next for us a potentially tricky away game to Kataller Toyama. Let’s hope we get a stream this weekend!

As for Matsumoto Yamaga, they fall to 15th place after their first away defeat of the season and they were simply outclassed today. Things do not get easier for them as they will search for their first home win of the season against an in-form Tokyo Verdy. They should not be in trouble at all in terms of their J2 survival and will be disappointed with their start to their season. They have plenty of time to improve and I am sure they will. I would be surprised if they do not make it into at least the top-half of the table. They will need to learn quickly for their last 2 defeats against opponents at the opposite end of the J2 spectrum.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 1-0 Matsumoto Yamaga FC

Match Preview – 17/04/2013 – J2: Section 9 – Gamba Osaka v Matsumoto Yamaga FC

With 2 clean sheets in a row to add to the unbeaten run in the league that has put us into second place, Gamba Osaka will now be setting their eyes on achieving 12 games unbeaten at home, but more importantly that elusive win that the performances have deserved. They play a humiliated Matsumoto Yamaga FC at Banpaku at 19:00 local time.

Matsumoto Yamaga FC v FC Gifu

This will be the first game between the sides ever and so I cannot give you any history on the two sides’ previous matches. Let’s hope this is only 1 of 2 matches between the 2 sides until Matsumoto make it into J1 with us.

Yamaga enter this game after being the first team to concede to FC Gifu this season, as well as the first team to lose to the team from central Japan and will be looking to hit back with a scalp of their own. Whether they have taken the defeat on the chin or not will be an influencing factor in this match. You can see the starting XI for that defeat to your left.

Given that this game will be the 2nd of 3 games in 7 days for all J2 teams, we will have to expect some changes by both teams. For Gamba, news is that Hasegawa will give Uchida the chance to start in place of Konno. This may be down to the fact that Konno did pick up an injury when away with Japan nearly a month ago and has not had any time to rest. Hopefully, Kenta will keep the back line intact. Looking further forward, Futagawa seems like the most likely player to drop to the bench with Abe probably taking his place, more down to age and longevity than anything else. Leandro has been challenged to score more goals after his wastefulness on the weekend, so I would expect him to start.

 

However, they have also yet to lose on the road this season, with an equal record to that of Gamba’s – 3 wins and a draw. Nevertheless, you would expect them to take that many points from the opponents they have played. Even with this record away, their home form is abysmal, taking just 1 point from 4 games. Another team seems comfortable on the road. Yet Gamba know that they have to start winning at home, so these streaks for both teams will have to end soon.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

In terms of injuries, we are not quite sure whether Hirai was injured on Sunday and that is why he was subbed after being brought on for Leandro or whether it was to steady the ship by bringing on a defensive midfielder for the final few minutes. I assume it would be the latter. As for Takei and Myojin, both have started training again with Takei being on the bench for the Step-Up League match last weekend, so he will be close. Oh Jae-Suk seems to be slowly getting to fitness, whilst Kotaro Omori is unaccounted for and therefore probably injured.

As for Matsumoto Yamaga, I do not know much about their team. Takayuki Funayama is probably their biggest threat going forward, having scored 4 goals in 8 games, all of them coming in the 4 games before the defeat to FC Gifu. Furthermore, having only been a J.League member since last year, bigger things are expected of Yamaga this year. They have the talent to make it to the play-offs, as I am told, so this match will definitely not be easy. Do not underestimate them, but also do not underestimate Gamba either. This will be a fascinating match to watch (if we can watch it).

Given that Hasegawa said he will probably play, please watch Tatsuya Uchida. Last year he struggled as a right-back and was quickly dropped after 5 matches under Masanobu Matsunami. He has been at the club for a few years and will now want to stamp his mark in defensive-midfield and show that he can give good back-up to Konno as well as trying to go past him. We have to have faith in the younger players, especially as Nishino has settled in well at centre-back. Uchida will have to play well, but let’s expect he will. He is confident in his abilities and chances under Hasegawa.

2 clean sheets in a row and making plenty of chances, I cannot see Gamba failing to finally break their winless duck at home, so it will be 2-0 to Gamba Osaka! Just kidding, I have only got it right once so far. But I expect a win and so do the fans – for the players’ sake, they need to get it done quickly. The problem has been not scoring early enough and failing to convert the chances we have made well.  Leandro will be disappointed with his misses on the weekend and should be fired up to prove his point, whilst the changes can only spur on the competition for places. It will not be easy but Gamba have made it this far unbeaten, and now with that tough start almost over, we just want to see them playing good football, being comfortable and winning more often. Expect and support!