Our unbeaten run finally came to an end after we were swept aside by top of the table Vissel Kobe, who extended their lead at the top after a very impressive and productive day in front of over 23,000 people at the Noevir Stadium. We knew a defeat would come sooner rather than later but to end it the way we did was the worst part and we now have to make up some ground if we are going to be Champions – the top 2 seems more realistic at the moment.
Vissel came into the match by making 2 changes from the team that drew 0-0 with Avispa Fukuoka on Friday, with former Gamba favourite Hideo Hashimoto and midfielder Sugiura making way for Estiven and the promising Ogawa, keeping the same formation as 4-2-2-2, with there being 2 holding midfielders, 2 further advanced wide players and then the 2 up top.
Gamba stuck with the same team that beat FC Gifu on Friday meaning that youngsters Abe and Uchida kept their places whilst Tomokazu Myojin made it onto the bench after over a month out with injury. Everything was the same as before apart from that change on the bench. The match was basically this: Vissel worked a lot harder and pressed Gamba into stopping their game whilst being clinical with the ball at their feet.
Having only found a stream for the match just before half time, this may be a bit lacklustre, just like Gamba so I do not blame you if you want to flick over the channel.
Vissel Kobe XI – Yamamoto, Okui, Iwanami, Kawamoto, Oya, Estiven, Tanaka, Mazinho, Ogawa, Tashiro, Popo.
Vissel Kobe Subs – Tokushige, Lee, Takayanagi, Hashimoto, Tokura, Arita, Yoshida.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Konno, Fujiharu, Endo, Uchida, Ienaga, Kurata, Abe, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Niwa, Futagawa, Myojin, Okazaki, Hirai.
Vissel started the match much better than their rivals in the first Hanshin Derby of the season, having 4 shots in the first 12 minutes or so with Tanaka first trying his arm and then Popo forcing Fujigaya into a simple catch. The third one came from a header by Kawamoto at the back post following a free kick but his header went comfortable past the right-hand post. This early dominance was down to their high pressing on Gamba that had been stolen from Kyoto Sanga and, so to speak, perfected. There was no real space for Gamba to do anything and we barely got out of our own half in these opening moments. Abe did finally take the first shot for Gamba but it was never troubling Yamamoto in goal.
Vissel got back into the swing of things with a couple of free-kicks in-between 15 and 20 minutes without too much goalmouth action but it was very obvious that they were on top and simply looked a better side. Iwanami had a shot for Vissel in the 25th minute whilst Abe reacted again by having one of his own, hitting the defender and going for a corner in what was the first period of pressure on Kobe, but they dealt with 2 corners there in a period that saw Gamba grow into the match.
Into the 33rd minute and Endo found himself on the edge of the penalty area and put a shot wide whilst Okui did the same thing for Kobe after good build-up play down the right for the hosts. Leandro had been kept quiet by young Iwanami for Vissel but he still had the best chance of the half. Fujiharu sent in a flat cross right onto the Brazilian’s head, allowing him to loop his header onto the post after Yamamoto left it to go wide, with the rebound being well blocked by the goalkeeper. It would have been a smash-and-grab goal had we scored and having been outdone in the first half, we were relieved to get in level whilst showing that we could make some chances.
Gamba started the 2nd half with a good amount of possession without really getting anywhere. There was at least some rest bite for the defence but Kobe’s stifling plans worked a treat for them. After a shockingly loose pass in the midfield by the once disgraceful Ienaga, Vissel went on the counter attack through Estiven and being unchallenged, he played it towards Tashiro who let it go to the player behind him only to get it back and he took the shot from 18 yards and with Konno moving to block the shot, he inadvertently deflected the ball beyond the helpless Fujigaya in goal. Nishino was not happy at the heart of the defence, shouting and banging the floor due to Konno’s deflection and the lack of protection given to him by the supposed defensive midfielder Uchida. Simply put, there was too much space in-between defence and midfield and we paid the price. 1-0 to Kobe, and deservedly so.
We responded decently enough with Uchida and Kaji combining well down the right hand-side with the former taking a shot which he dragged wide for 20 yards. Ienaga’s performance was epitomised after he allowed a simple pass go to Vissel and having not been up to scratch in the last 3 matches, he was dragged off just before the hour for Shoki Hirai, making us play a 4-4-2. Ienaga is an extremely talented player but if you want to know why he failed in Europe and why Akira Nishino sent him away during his first spell at Gamba, you only have to look at his attitude. Awful.
It was not like Hirai had a chance to affect the game before we went 2-0 down. The warning signs came a few minutes before the goal as we tried to play offside with it never ever going to work but fortunately Popo’s cross was bad. Leandro failed to link-up well with his teammates thanks largely to Iwanami. It got worse as we again gave the ball away and Mazinho was given time and space to pick out the run of Ogawa from the right with Kaji too slow to react. The lack of pressure on the through-ball made it too easy and the finish was also too easy as Ogawa slid the ball into the bottom corner with Fujigaya defenceless.
Mazinho was taken out for Yoshida in a like-for-like swap whilst Kurata got booked in the 70th minute. Abe and Kaji were both removed for Futagawa and debutant Oh Jae-Suk, with him and Endo looking to really drive on Gamba with the time that was left. Endo picked up a booking but sent in a corner in the 81st minute after good work by Oh, allowing Nishino to head into the ground. His attempt was cleared off the line and Konno’s attempt was well denied by Yamamoto in goal. Kobe sat back and allowed the repeated long balls to Leandro to be well won by Iwanami. They killed the time by taking off Popo and Estiven for Tokura and Hashimoto, but the game was over and done with, but only after Leandro was finally booked for being an all-round dick.
What this game shows is that the team really is inflexible. Moving Konno into defence has put pressure onto a young Uchida who failed big-time yesterday. But I would keep with him for now because we need to let the young players learn. What the biggest point is that when a defender is injured or banned, Konno will have to go back into defence because we don’t trust Niwa – therefore, we need to get another defender in who can cover/challenge for a centre-half position. If Konno was in midfield yesterday, you can be guaranteed he would have squeezed the space a lot better than Uchida. Also, we have to point fingers at Ienaga and Leandro who simply have not pulled their weight in the last 3 games (and more). Ienaga has been the worst and it is really frustrating as he is extremely talented but he has a shocking attitude, whilst Leandro really has not got going yet. You could say this is an overreaction after losing to simply the best team in the division but it isn’t.
Man of the Match:
Iwanami of Vissel Kobe had Leandro in his pocket all day long and as an 18 year-old, he will be one to watch for the future. Credit all of Vissel for their play and style. Too strong, that is all I can say.
Where it leaves both teams:
Vissel stay top and extended their lead back to 5 points with the best goal difference in the league. They are now followed by V-Varen Nagasaki who played a 0-0 draw out against Mito Hollyhock. Gamba have finally lost their unbeaten run and slip down to 3rd which is quite lucky as Tochigi SC also lost, 3-0 away to Ehime. Other play-off contenders Kyoto Sanga and Montedio Yamagata lost again, the latter in a thrilling 4-3 away game to now 5th placed Fagiano Okayama, with the visitors not quite sure how they did not win that match. Rounding out the top 6 is JEF United, who beat FC Gifu 1-0. All in all, a brilliant weekend for Vissel. Gamba have another tough match against Avispa Fukuoka on the road. We need to show character if we are going to get anything from that match. Will we learn our lessons?