Match Preview – 29/06/2013 – J2: Section 21 – Gamba Osaka v Tokushima Vortis

The end of the first half to the season will coincide with my first ever live game at Banpaku (and of Gamba Osaka) as we welcome one of the big yo-yo teams of the division, Tokushima Vortis, to do battle in this 19:00 local time kick-off as Gamba look to put the draw against Fagiano Okayama behind them and get back on to the winning path.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

The visitors come into this match on the back of a 2-1 home defeat to JEF United Chiba and find themselves in overall mid-table obscurity being 10 points clear of Gunma in 21st but 6 points behind JEF who are in 6th. The reason for this is simply that they cannot convert defeats into draws as they have only managed 2 draws in 20 matches joined with 8 victories and 10 defeats. Whilst they have one of the better attack forces in the league in 7th place, they have the joint 3rd worst defence in the league which is slightly similar to our once porous defence but electrifying attack.

Their away form is not exactly cool either as they have picked up 11 of their 26 points on the road with 7 of those points coming in their first 3 away days. They have beaten FC Gifu, Kyoto Sanga (teams have a 50% chance of doing so) and Gainare Tottori, winning each game by a margin of a solitary goal. This adds to their 2 clean sheets on the road also against Gifu and Tottori. In total, they have conceded 15 goals on their travels and have netted 11 times in 9 games.

The two sides have not met in any competitive games but have had employees swap sides, as Yohei Fukumoto was a Gamba player in 2008 but picked up just 8 appearances in the double-winning season; Akihiro Sato was part of the side that almost got Tokushima promoted in 2011 and subsequently joined us last season.

Tokushima Vortis v JEF United ChibaGamba come into this game without Leandro or Akihiro Ienaga as both have been suspended for picking up their 4th yellow cards of the season against Okayama last week in what turned out to be their final game for the club as their loan deals expire on the 30th June. The good news is that Yasuhito Endo and Yasuyuki Konno were kicked-out of the Confederations’ Cup last week but they will not be used for this game as they need some serious rest, with Konno in particular stating that he is tired. FC Gifu next Wednesday looks more likely. Akihiro Sato is back in training so it is only a matter of time before we see him destroying the J2 defences (finally!) and he is the only player “injured” as Keisuke Iwashita made it on the  bench last week, although I expect Nishino and Niwa to continue as a pair. But options are much greater now as we get right into the season so this is a brilliant time to have a clear injury list.

The biggest question will come in the form of the striker. Paulinho will presumably start again on the right-hand side, although he could easily be made as the striker with Abe coming in on the right. I would expect my original hypothesis though for Paulinho and then the question is “who will be the main striker?” I would expect Shoki Hirai to start up front as he has been on the bench for the past two games and has scored 3 goals from 4 shots this season. Kawanishi is the other out-and-out striker and it would not surprise me to see him start either. Kenta Hoshihara has only been on the bench a few times this season will therefore be out of my running for that. Kenta Hasegawa will probably surprise us all with his choice, but you can see my preference of the team to the side.

Vortis have a fairly large injury list with no less than 5 players supposedly missing out this weekend with defenders Mitsuru Chiyotanda, Yuya Hashiuchi and Masahiro Nasukawa, as well as midfielders Keisuke Ota and Yu Eto out. They have all started the majority of the matches they have played in, which is a low amount anyway, and none of them played in the last Vortis match. You can see the team that did start against JEF to the side.

Shoki HiraiAs I believe that either Shoki Hirai or Shota Kawanishi will start as the main forward, the starter will be my man to watch. Of course, I could get caught out by Hasegawa’s unpredictability but I will take a chance on that. The starter will have to link well with Kurata who is the heartbeat of the team whilst they need to work hard themselves and find the back of the net as regularly as Leandro, if not more often. They both have the abilities to do that, especially in J2, and they need to seize the extra game that they have gained in order to shine before Adi Rocha becomes available on the 19th July. I am sure that both of them could fill the void left by Leandro and maybe do better and they will be scrutinised heavily before, during and after the match. Whichever one of you starts, do your best!

Having said all that, I can see nothing but a Gamba victory (as I have said in the previous 20 previews)! I will take a punt on a 3-0 home win as they have to do it for me and my first, in-person Gamba match. Vortis have been very poor on the road and have only taken points against a promotion-chasing side once, which was against Kyoto Sanga. Our boys will want to make a statement with Leandro and Ienaga now finished at Banpaku and edge our unbeaten record at home to a year if we eventually make it past Giravanz Kitakyushu and Vissel Kobe, as well as Vortis, unscratched at Banpaku. Tokushima are too unpredictable and could cause an upset but I am pretty sure that a defeat is the only thing any football fan would predict for the away side.

Make me happy Gamba! Please!

Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Advertisements

Match Report – 22/06/2013 – J2: Section 20 – Gamba Osaka 1-1 Fagiano Okayama

A fairly entertaining draw ensued at Banpaku in front of 15,151 people as Gamba dropped points for the first time since losing to Vissel Kobe way back when, as visitors Fagiano Okayama put up a strong performance to leave with a well-earned point. Both teams had chances to win it and lose it but neither could prevail. Both teams would say they should have won given the chances they got so an all-square result was, in the end, a fair one.

Gamba Osaka

Gamba decided to make one change to the starting side against Mito HollyHock from last Saturday which saw Paulinho take Akihiro Ienaga’s spot on the right of midfield after he took his spot last weekend due to Aki’s studded head. Myojin kept his spot despite Okazaki scoring (this choice disappointed me) but otherwise I had no complaints. News from the bench was the return of Keisuke Iwashita after he had missed the last 9 games since the 1-1 draw to Gainare Tottori during which he had to be taken off. He took the spot of Takuya Takei on the bench which saw Shoki Hirai keep his spot there, for once!

For the visitors, Tadokoro was passed fit despite being flagged as a potentially injured player, meaning he kept his spot on the left of midfield. There was just one change for the visitors and that came up front with Sekido making way for Seno with the midfielder making just his 4th appearance of the season and his 1st start of the campaign in an unconventional forward role. They stuck with their 3-4-3-esque line-up with the 2 forwards supporting the main striker whilst the 2 central midfielders were the defensive screen.

Unfortunately, I was only able to watch the 2nd half of the match as the streaming website was down for maintenance so I will have to use Gamba’s official website as a source of my “knowledge”. This will outweigh my report slightly but what can be done? This will probably have an effect on my man of the match choice too, so apologies for that.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Paulinho, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Iwashita, Abe, Okazaki, Ienaga, Hirai.
Fagiano Okayama XI – Nakabayashi, Goto, Takeda, Ueda, Tanaka, Sengoku, Shimada, Tadokoro, Seno, Oshitani, Ishihara.
Fagiano Okayama Subs – Mago, Kondo, Chiaki, Sekido, Arata, Kukita, Mimura.

1st Half:
The game started with a minutes silence for recently passed away Josip Kuže after a several months of battling Leukaemia. He managed Gamba from 1995-1998 and then again from 2000-2002. My deepest thoughts go to our former manager.

Tanaka HeaderI have been praising Gamba for going ahead early on in matches which has really settled us down into a good rhythm and set us up for the win but in this game, the roles were reversed after just the 3rd minute as Fagiano took the lead through midfielder Soichi Tanaka who picked up his second goal of the season. Myojin was turned too easily by Shimada who played a ball to Ishihara on the left-hand side. He was tracked closely by Nishino as Kaji tucked in to over his defensive partner but he could have stayed on the right as Ishihara played a pass back to Tadokoro who was free with no Paulinho in pursuit. Tadokoro whipped in the cross immediately and found Tanaka unmarked as Uchida fell asleep, ball watching instead of following his man, forcing Fujiharu to come in, albeit too late as the cross was flat and fast, being nodded in from 6 yards with Fujigaya stranded. A very poor goal to concede as everyone seemed to switch-off.

Judging from the commentary from Gamba’s website, not much happened for the next 10 minutes or so until Paulinho went down in the area under a challenge but was adjudged to have dived instead of being tackled. He was subsequently booked and this is the second time he has had this happen to him in the last two home matches so it is either him diving or the referees being very harsh critics. Into the 16th minute and Seno controlled a cross from the left and volleyed his shot wide of the target.

Then we all believed we had got back into the match just a minute later as Paulinho tapped the ball or ankle of the defender after some good running by Futagawa but he was tackled, allowing Paulinho to put his foot in and win the ball back, finally firing into the back of the net. The referee thought otherwise in what seemed an unfair call on the Brazilian whose view of the referee must just have got worse and worse throughout the match. I have watched this instance several times and it seems an extremely harsh call.

Gamba were dominating the possession throughout the whole match, especially in these first 20 minutes but it took until the 20th and 21st minutes for us to get our first shots away through Uchida and Leandro. The latter was the first to test the goalkeeper. Fagiano had come with a plan to sit deep and counter attack and it was working as they suffocated us to no real chances coming up to the half an hour mark. Ueda was booked for the visitors whilst Paulinho had a shot in the 33rd minute that caused no problems for Nakabayashi in goal.

A few minutes later, we won a couple of free kicks with the first hitting the wall from a Futagawa shot and then the second was given for a foul in front of the goal but that also came to nothing. A few minutes later we had a corner which was taken by Paulinho but that was headed clear of danger. What was evident though was that we were starting to get into this game with some added pressure onto the Fagiano defence and it soon crumbled at the hands (or should I say head) of Shu Kurata.

Shu Kurata HeaderIt all started with Nishino booting the ball clear from near the corner flag on the right hand-side. It made its way to Leandro was just eased his marker out the way but could not get to the ball. He did affect the direction of the ball however as it broke free to Paulinho who took a touch past a midfielder and started his pass from just before the half way line. He played that pass through the Fagiano midfield towards Leandro on the right which forced the deepest defender across to cover him, leaving Kurata free to run behind him. The cross from Leandro came from the corner of the box and was his only touch as he hit a flat but accurate cross to Kurata who was still free, allowing him to head past Nakabayashi in goal at his near post. A swift goal that caught Fagiano cold and of course, Kurata was the scorer. Great play by Paulinho and Leandro too.

The half ended with Paulinho setting up Myojin to fire wide after a nice dribble on the right by the Brazilian and the single minute added on also saw nothing. After a slow start we had got that important goal just before half time and we should have been able to build upon that in the second half. Fagiano had not really threatened during the half and with what was to be their only shot on target during the game, they scored. Things to improve on for both teams.

2nd Half:
With a live stream now available, I can at least detail this half a bit better than the first. We were pressing high up the pitch as the visitors got the half underway which saw Ueda calm at the back to trick his way out of a potentially tricky situation. We almost put ourselves into a tricky situation after a cross from the left by the visitors saw a lack of communication between Nishino and Fujigaya, not for the first time this season, but the cross fortunately went wide of the far post with no-one attacking it.

Fagiano OkayamaThen a moment of pure madness by referee Yoshiro Imamura as he gave a foul against Leandro for challenging for a ball from a goal kick by Fujigaya against Goto. The worst was yet to come as Imamura inexplicably brought out his yellow card for what was a challenge that Leandro did not make. He did not touch the player or the ball and yet that was the result. The significance was it happened to be his 4th yellow card of the season meaning he will be suspended for the game against Tokushima Vortis which was supposed to be his final match for Gamba. Conspiracy!

On with the game.  Fujiharu went excruciatingly close to our second of the match after Uchida pounced on the ball in midfield with Futagawa heading a Kaji cross back to the marauding left-back but he could only fire inches wide of the far post with his right foot. Uchida then hit the side netting from the right of the box after some tippy-tappy football by the team. After this move, Futagawa was replaced by Abe to add come energy to the side.

Paulinho was next to go close after Kurata started the move off around 35 yards from goal, passing to Leandro who passed to Paulinho to head forward to Abe on the edge of the box. This was cleared but Paulinho forced the next header to go back to Leandro who flicked onto Kurata in the box at around 12 yards from goal. He controlled the ball and passed back to Paulinho who went past the rushing defender and onto his right foot where he drilled a low shot towards the near post but Nakabayashi was equal to it. The keeper then made an astonishing save to deny Abe an almost certain goal on the hour mark. Fagiano were under the cosh and cleared a ball straight to Fujiharu down the middle from 30 yards. He headed to Myojin who flicked to Leandro and the striker took a touch and passed back to Abe whose shot was probably going wide but it took a huge deflection. Nakabayashi seemed wrong-footed but managed to react quickly to get down low and push the shot wide of his post. Stunning goalkeeping.

Ienaga

The visitors were being dominated and so they responded by bringing on top scorer Arata on for Oshitani in the 62nd minute whilst we brought on Ienaga for Paulinho a few minutes later as the visitors started to get a foothold once more. The next 5 minutes were very quiet as we seemed to have been tamed for the time being and Ishihara took a swing from 20 yards or so after Niwa’s clearance was blocked by a Fagiano player.

Then more refereeing madness. Again a goal kick from Fujigaya and this time in the direction of Ienaga who jumped for the ball with Ueda and of course, Ienaga needed to use his arms to jump. He hardly touched the defender who clutched his face in agony, earning Ienaga a yellow and he now misses next week’s match too as he is also suspended. Talk about party/goodbye ceremony poopers. It seemed to spur Akihiro on though as he trickled his way through the box on the left and passed the ball into space in front of goal but nobody accepted the invitation. A minute later and he blazed over the bar after cutting in from the right.

Entering the last 15 minutes and it was Fagiano who looked the most likely to grab a winner. They broke down our left side and a cross was sent in the box to Arata but Kaji defended superbly to get back and deny him the chance to score, conceding a corner that came to nothing. They then took off Ishihara for Kukita in the 82nd minute. Just 2 minutes later and Fagiano should have scored and potentially won the game as a ball from the half way line on the left was dinked in towards the forwards and Kukita made a run that allowed Seno some space to get behind Nishino in defence who did just enough to force the striker to fire just wide of the far post with Fujigaya beaten all ends up.

LeandroKurata responded with a drive that went just over from 17 yards after a short corner by Abe but with a bit of pressure and the ball slightly under his feet, he put it slightly high and wide. Myojin was taken off for Okazaki whilst Mimura came on for Seno for the visitors who had another golden opportunity as Kukita volleyed wide of Fujigaya’s right post after a nice chipped ball was controlled well by Arata who passed to his fellow forward but he put it inches wide. The game was at full speed as Leandro went through on goal just a minute later with just Nakabayashi to beat but his first touch was heavy and it allowed the keeper to block the Brazilian’s shot at his feet after Abe did well to flick on and the Brazilian had turned his marker. What a way to say goodbye that would have been.

The three added minutes were all ours but we could not find a way through. All in all, it was perhaps a disappointing result but given the effort that both teams put in, a draw was probably fair and you can see why Fagiano have drawn so many of their matches this season. If we were a bit sharper in front of goal we would have won it but the same goes for Fagiano too who had chances towards the end of the match. Both teams will be disappointed not to have won which shows that the draw was a fair one.

Unfortunately, Leandro and Ienaga could not go out with a bang but once more we can thank them for their efforts. It was a tough match and their contributions were good but the curtain has fallen on their time at Banpaku once more. Thank You!

Man of the Match:
Basing your Man of the Match on just 45 minutes of football and some very short highlights is almost impossible but hey-ho I will give it a shot. I think many players were lively like Paulinho, Ienaga, Abe and Leandro. Hiroki Fujiharu was also a threat coming from left back and on another day may have scored with his right-foot shot. Shu Kurata looked the best player though as he scored and looked very effective against a strong Fagiano defence. He took his goal very well as he linked for the final time with Leandro and Shu has become the heartbeat of the team and will have to be without Leandro. Shu had a good game and was involved in almost all of the good moves for us. It is a shame that I could not watch the entire match but based on what I saw, he was great again.

Where it leaves both teams:
Gamba remain top of the table but have had the gap at the top cut down to 2 points as Vissel Kobe comfortably beat V-Varen Nagasaki 2-0 at home, meaning the gap to 3rd place is now up to 8 points because 4th placed Kyoto Sanga lost 1-0 at home to our opponents from last week Mito HollyHock, thanks to a last minute penalty from Hashimoto secured all the points for the visitors. Tochigi SC also failed to take 3rd place as they drew 3-3 with Tokyo Verdy as they went 2-0 down, to 3-2 up only to concede in second half stoppage time. JEF United got a 2-1 away win to our next opponents Tokushima Vortis as they round out the top 6 with Montedio Yamagata and Avispa Fukuoka 2 points further back after getting comfortable home wins. This meant that Fagiano slipped down to 9th place with the same points total as Consadole Sapporo.

The mid-table mash-up continues from there on whilst the bottom third had 3 big winners, with Yokohama FC, Giravanz Kitakyushu and ThespaKusatsu Gunma all taking wins when the other lost, allowing Yokohama to move to 15th, Giravanz to 18th and Gunma off the bottom and into 21st place as Gifu resume with holding every other team up once more.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 1-1 Fagiano Okayama

Photos taken from sanyo, livedoor, soccerking and Gamba’s Official Website. No copyright infringement intended. Originals hereherehere and here.

Match Preview – 22/06/2013 – J2: Section 20 – Gamba Osaka v Fagiano Okayama

Fagiano Okayama v Avispa FukuokaWe return to Banpaku for the first time since the 1st of the month and having won the last 6 games in a row, 3 without conceding, spirits will be high for this 18:00 kick-off time against Fagiano Okayama, who have slipped up considerably in these last few games but are the drew-specialists in the league and definitely cannot be taken lightly. With the news that Leandro and Ienaga will not be staying beyond the next game against Tokushima Vortis, us fans will be hoping that they can both end with a bang as a farewell present.

Fagiano come into this game having not won in their past 4 games, split equally between 2 draws and 2 defeats. In that time, they have managed just 3 goals and have conceded 5, failing to score in 2 of those games. Last weekend saw one of those draws come in the form of Avispa Fukuoka and despite winning a penalty in the final few minutes, the hosts missed it twice as it had to be retaken, even though they changed the kick taker. You can see their starting eleven from that match to the side.

Fagiano finished in 8th place last season on 65 points, 6 points off a play-off position. This was a massive leapt from 13th in 2011, 17th in 2010 and last place in 2009, in what was their first season as a J.League club. They have risen steadily since their inclusion to the division and are now once of the biggest threats that J2 has to offer.

Their season so far has been a very strange one to say the least. They started with 4 draws, then they won 3 matches, followed by 2 draws, a win, a draw and then their first defeat of the season against Tochigi SC. They somehow managed to bounce back against Montedio Yamagata 4-3 despite being dominated but then they drew to Tottori and picked up a win against Tokushima Vortis. Their defeat to Roasso Kumamoto at home was their first for 10 months and they seem to be struggling a little at the moment. They have slipped out of the top 6 and are caught between regaining 6th place or falling into the depths of mid-table obscurity, starting this weekend in 7th place.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

In the form of Tomoyuki Arata they do have a goal scorer though as the 27 year old who was snapped up from JEF United during the winter and has netted 8 goals this season from 16 starts with 19 appearances in total. Not bad for Fagiano but in these last 4 games he has not scored and the team has suffered because of it. The visitors this weekend have not lost when he has scored so they will be pinning their hopes on that fact once more.

Focussing on Gamba now, we know of course that Endo and Konno are still playing for Japan in Brazil. As mentioned last weekend, Keisuke Iwashita has been joining in the training matches and it would not be a surprise if he does make the bench – I would have the same feeling if he does not make the bench. Keep an eye out on that one. Of course, Akihiro Sato is still in light training, if anything at all, and will therefore not make it but with Leandro leaving soon, he might just get his chance when he returns to full fitness, and boy will I love that! News on Ienaga’s head injury has not come so I would expect him to retain his spot despite Paulinho having a great game last weekend. I would like to see Okazaki back in for Myojin and who knows what Hasegawa will decide! Therefore, I have given you my desired team to the side.

As for Fagiano, they have midfielders Tadokoro and Sawaguchi reportedly unavailable, as is striker Kamijo. Tadokoro did start Fagiano’s match last weekend against Avispa Fukuoka, playing the full 90 minutes and with search results pulling up nothing about an injury on the official Fagiano Okayama site, one can only presume that he picked up a slight niggle in training and he might just miss this weekend’s match. The visitors did not start top scorer Arata last weekend but if they are to bag a goal or 2 this weekend, then they really need to play him to stand a chance.

Yosuke FujigayaWith the team being a rather consistent entity (excluding all those forced changes), it is quite difficult to pick a player to watch for this weekend as I have run out of players to highlight. Yet I think that Yosuke Fujigaya will be my man to watch on Saturday. He has been absolutely solid this season and has been a commanding figure in goal which has had a massive impact on the defence in front of him. He has picked up 3 clean sheets in a row and has not been troubled in goal for some time now. When he has been called upon, he has risen to every challenge and I would expect that with him in such great form we will be secure at the back. I cannot praise the man enough and if he can continue going on like this then I am sure everyone will forget 2012 ever happened for him. He is confident in his own abilities and so am I! Great stuff Yosuke, keep it up!

We are doing enough in games at the moment to win matches without being prolific in front of goal whilst being professional at the back to limit the opposition to just half-half-chances at best. With Fagiano having a tough time at the moment, I can only see a 2-0 home win to our boys in black and blue. I am sure that they will give us a hard match and I expect nothing less but right now, we are on opposite ends of the form scale and with Leandro and Ienaga hopefully wanting to make the fans happy before they depart, I am sure they will go at it 100%. Our defence is resolute and at home we look back to our best and teams just do not know how to play us right now. We have the upper hand in quality and execution of plays and Fagiano will do well to take a point back to Okayama. I have full confidence of taking 3 points, I really do!

Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Blog plans whilst I am in Japan

From the 27th June until the 7th August, I will be leaving these English shores for my first ever trip to Japan, more specifically the best city Osaka, for a 6 week “holiday” involving sight-seeing, improving my Japanese language skills, meeting new people and of course, watching Gamba Osaka on their (or should I say OUR) way back to J1. This trip will have an effect on my work on the blog and the podcast, so I wanted to let you all know what can do whilst I am in Japan!

Before all that, I might as well tell you which games I will be going to and ones that I should be able to go to will be marked with (***).

29th June – Gamba Osaka v Tokushima Vortis長良川スタジアム
3rd July – FC Gifu v Gamba Osaka
6th July – FC Tokyo v Sanfrecce Hiroshima
7th July – JEF United Chiba v Gamba Osaka
10th July – Cerezo Osaka v Yokohama F.Marinos ***
14th July – Gamba Osaka v Giravanz Kitakyushu
17th July – Cerezo Osaka v Sagan Tosu
20th July – Gamba Osaka v Vissel Kobe
3rd August – Cerezo Osaka v Ventforet Kofu ***
4th August – Fagiano Okayama v Gamba Osaka ***

The Cerezo v Yokohama match is marked as I do not know if I can be bothered to go and see them play as I am not much a fan of Yokohama, even if they do have Nakamura and Nakazawa, and Cerezo are Pigs. The games in August all depend on if I can afford to go to Okayama and get a ticket – if I fail to do so, I will go and watch the Pigs lose to Kofu. As for the Tokyo v Hiroshima match, I am in and around Tokyo for 3-4 days and I like these 2 teams so I thought I would take my chance to see them. The only Gamba game I will definitely not be going to is the away match against Tokyo Verdy, simply because it is bloody expensive to travel there without buying another JR Rail Pass, which I certainly cannot afford.

フクダ電子アリーナ

With all this travelling and football, as well as doing the standard tourist stuff, my output on this blog and the podcast will probably be reduced. Nevertheless, I still vow to get the match previews and reports online before and after each match, although they might be a bit more condensed than usual. As for the podcast, I still want to keep that going too but depending on my time availability, I might have to put 2 games into 1 (like Gifu and JEF as they are during the same week) or shorten them a bit to make the most of my time in Japan.

I am determined to keep my end of the deal on all this blogging and podcast recording. The only thing I cannot do is the commentary of games that I do on Twitter, neither can I tweet streams. What I can do is take lots of photos to make up for all of that! One day, I hope all of you can get a chance to have my experiences in Japan.

I will keep you all up to date with my footballing travels in Japan if I can, probably via Twitter and Facebook if not the blog. The final game before I leave is this weekend’s home match against Fagiano Okayama. Then I get to see Leandro and Ienaga’s last match whilst Usami and Rocha join for the vital derby against Vissel Kobe. Excellent stuff and extremely exciting.

Thank you for your understanding of this matter.

Match Report – 15/06/2013 – J2: Section 19 – Mito HollyHock 0-2 Gamba Osaka

Mito HollyHock

Yet another professional performance ensured that we came away from Mito with all 3 points and the 3rd clean sheet in a row in a 2-0 victory with goals from Leandro and a first ever professional goal from Kenya Okazaki which saw our winning run extend to 6 matches whilst our lead at the top was also extended. 10,025 people turned-up at K’s Denki Stadium in what was the 2nd highest attendance at the ground for a Mito match.

The hosts changed their line-up from a 4-4-2 system to a 4-2-3-1 formation. They brought in Kondo at right-back, meaning that Ishigami shifted into midfield in place of Yuto Suzuki and striker Yamamura was replaced by Shimada. The final change came at left-back where Wako was replaced by Omoto. It looked like they had decided to defend and counter attack, trying to limit us in our possession play and leave it up to veteran Suzuki to lead the line up top.

Gamba on the other hand made one change from the team that started against Giravanz Kitakyushu, with Kenya Okazaki being replaced by 35 year old Tomokazu Myojin. I think it was a very unfair change because Kenya has been doing excellently well in the starting eleven since Endo left for National Team duty. Nevertheless, Myojin added some experience to the midfield that Okazaki is lacking and he does need games still after his recent injury. Leandro had managed to shrug-off his broken/fractured left hand, playing with no bandages on that hand and he once led the line with Shu Kurata in close support. The only other change came on the substitute bench where Shota Kawanishi was replaced by Shoki Hirai. The constant changing from on the bench to off it between the two is baffling at times.

Mito HollyHock XI – Homma, Kondo, Hosokawa, Tomita, Omoto, Ishigami, Nishioka, Ozawa, Hashimoto, Shimada, Suzuki T.
Mito HollyHock Subs – Iwadate, Kim, Wako, Suzuki Y, Yamamura, Namba, Mishima.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Ienaga, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Leandro.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Takei, Okazaki, Paulinho, Hirai.

1st Half:
The game started in a slow fashion but it was clear to see that Mito were attempting to press us high up the pitch but we were simply too good for them, getting the ball around the back, keeping possession and being patient with it. Naturally, we had the first decent chance of the game as Akihiro Ienaga fired over the bar from 25 yards or so after some lovely possession play down the middle and right, ending with a flick by Kurata to the right midfielder. It was comfortably over the bar but a clean strike nevertheless.

LeandroMito were looking to counter attack and they won a free kick on the half-way line through Shimada which signalled their downfall. The kick was cleared easily by the defence and we eventually got it over to the right side through Shu Kurata to Ienaga. He bided his time until Kurata got close to him where the ball was squared to our number 6 and he played a pass to the overlapping Akira Kaji who came down the touchline unnoticed. He looked up and sent in a cross to the back post towards Futagawa. He made a run to the near post which was splendid as he dragged his marker with him, creating the space for Leandro to move to the back post and he made no mistake this week, heading back across goal and past the undefended Homma in goal to make it 1-0 in the 10th minute. A swift counter attacking goal created by Futagawa’s genius run. No surprise that we took the lead in the match early for the 3rd game in a row.

The next 5 minutes came as a period of consolidation of the goal as we looked comfortable, passing the ball around and enjoying our football with Mito simply going nowhere. After around a minute of pure passing by Gamba, Ienaga slid a ball into the box for Kurata but there was too much pace on it. The build-up was excellent. Takaharu Nishino picked up his 3rd booking of the season after he fouled Suzuki in what would be a constant battle throughout the match which made me twitchy to say the least. That free kick from 20 yards was sent miles over the bar by Hashimoto. They continued to press but we made getting the ball from the back to midfield under high pressure look simple yet the next best chance came to the hosts in the 19th minute as Ozawa span the defence on the right and crossed towards Suzuki but he failed to get contact under minimal pressure. The hosts had their tails up though and only two minutes later they robbed Myojin in midfield and Nishioka dummied a shot to fool the midfielder but he shot well over from range. Another shot 2 minutes later with the same, non-threatening result.

Ienaga

We got back into the swing of things as we pressed high and Ienaga founded Kurata just inside the With Leandro and Kurata reunited up top, they linked superbly but somehow failed to score. The Brazilian got into the box on the right and went towards goal but was crowded by the defence and goalkeeper and instead of shooting at a reasonable angle, he squared to Kurata but his slide-in shot was deflected past the post, with the resulting corner from Paulinho finding Niwa unmarked at the back post but he only just missed the post as he hit the side netting. Down the other end and Shimada won another corner but the header won at the near post was flicked well wide of the far post. Suzuki copied Shimada to win another corner but the same thing happened, with the near post header going wide once more.penalty area but his shot was scuffed from 12 yards. In the 25th minute, the swing of things got violent as Ienaga went for a header at ground level and was booted in the head which caused heavy bleeding and a huge bandage (nothing like Mummy Endo from the Kashiwa match last season). Kurata shifted to the right and Mito could only force a corner on the left through Shimada as Kaji defended superbly against him all day. Myojin was flattened from the second cross but there had already been a handball before he got knocked down. Shimada did the same thing 2 minutes later as Paulinho rushed on in place of the fatally wounded Ienaga.

The last 5 minutes of the half were pretty calm with Mito being culled. We had some great possession in the final third for a fair while from right to left and back with the move ending with Fujiharu blazing well wide from 18 yards, but again the football was really enjoyable. He was however booked for the first time this season after apparently taking too long at a throw in, whilst Shu Kurata  had a  shot blocked after fantastic running and passing by Paulinho. We ended the half in the lead and although Mito had got some decent half chances, that was all they were, half chances. We allowed them to do that a bit too much and a second goal sooner rather than later would have given us the security we needed. Our football was fantastic when we were given the chance and that little bit of quality from Futagawa, Kaji and Leandro was the difference.

2nd Half:
Gamba OsakaThe second half started with Nishino waging war with Suzuki once more and having me worried that he would be sent off sooner rather than later. You could tell that Suzuki was starting to get frustrated and annoyed which would go against him later on. With little action in the first 10 minutes of the half, this was about as pending as it got. Saying that, Fujigaya did excellently to claim a catch from a corner and Leandro went extremely close with a stunning volley from the right side of the 6 yard box, his right foot flying onto a cross from the left by Fujiharu but the volley went just over the bar.

The game seemed to be lacking some real flair and creativity which was apparent in the next 10 minutes. Ishigami blazed high and wide from an acute angle, Suzuki and Nishino continued to battle on with the youngster winning that round whilst Niwa was denied superbly by Homma from a Futagawa corner after Leandro tried a chipped pass to our number 10. Homma raced off his line to meet Niwa at 10 yards or so and blocked the header with his hand just after it left Daiki’s forehead. 3 minutes later in the 67th minute, Paulinho went for his standard 30 yard screamer and found the standard row Z.

A minute later, Kondo won a corner for the hosts and a bit of a non-threatening scramble ensued but the ball went out for a goal kick. Niwa’s only mistake came when Suzuki robbed him and with choices in the box, he managed only to pick out a Gamba player which summed up his day. Tomita took out Kurata on the counter attack and then Suzuki was booked for fouling Uchida (and about time too). With less than 20 minutes to go, Paulinho did brilliantly to win a free kick from Ishigami around 30 yards from goal after bursting through a  couple of tackles but his shot was saved down low by Homma. Nishioka then had a chance for the hosts but could only miss-hit the shot. Matsumoto then chipped over the bar with Fujigaya never looking worried.

In the 77th minute, Leandro was substituted for Okazaki as he was taken off by a stretcher but he was not injured whilst the hosts brought on striker Mishima for defender Kondo 2 minutes later after Ozawa headed well wide from 18 yards. The hosts were pressing for the equaliser with the bumper crowd urging them on, but Paulinho, Niwa and Fujigaya all defended superbly even though we could not get out of our own half.

OkazakiIt looked as though Hasegawa was looking to defend the 1-0 lead as he prepared Oh to come on for Futagawa but Okazaki had bigger and better ideas as he made it 2-0 with a brilliant strike. We pushed out of defence and went down the left with Fujiharu making it to the corner flag. He looked back to find Paulinho who aimed a pass square to Kurata but he let it run to Okazaki. Shu’s run made some space for the youngster to take a touch and having spotted Homma on his 6 yard box, he chipped a shot over the keeper and into the bottom right corner of the goal to secure all 3 points and to get his first goal as a professional footballer. An exquisite goal.

That sub of Oh for Futagawa did happen with Mito bringing on Namba for Nishioka even though the game was dead. The action was not over though as Suzuki was given a straight red card for swinging an arm at Niwa after the pair had challenged for a high ball in our half. The rules state that raising your arms means you are walking a line and the referee has no hesitations in taking the card out  immediately (ignoring that the striker had already been booked) and Suzuki himself had no complaints. It was a poor challenge and surprisingly it was not Nishino who copped the blow. A deserved sending off.

That was how the game ended. A bit of controversy in what was a game lacking quality in the second half but we did brilliantly to keep the well-supported hosts at bay. Both goals had real quality in them and highlighted once again the difference between Gamba and our opponents. The defence was solid and even though our frontline was not as fluid as it has been, we took 2 very well made chances superbly. Mito never had a truly threatening attempt on goal and without Endo and Konno, we are just getting better game by game.

Man of the Match:
KajiOnce again it is another tough call as many players did their jobs well without having too much attacking proficiency just like last week. Akihiro Ienaga turned up and was excellent before his head injury forced him off with his replacement Paulinho almost snatching this award as he linked well with the other players, worked immensely hard and showed his abilities in his hour showing. But for me Daiki Niwa and Akira Kaji were solid it at the back, the former repelling their not very threatening attacks as well as having a couple of chances to score too and the latter doing the same in defence and assisting the first goal. Niwa has been excellent in these last 3 games and was in charge at the back whilst Nishino was getting too tight to Suzuki. He has really impressed me and shown that he does have some quality when he is not being erratic. Right now, he has hit top form and I am enjoying watching him. As for Kaji, he had to stop Shimada who was full of beans and he did that to perfection, whilst his cross for Leandro’s goal was perfect. A captain’s performance and the joint strength between these two defenders made the difference when we were repelling those Mito forays. Well done boys!

Where it leaves both teams:
There were a total of 39 goals in Round 19 of J.League Division 2 on a marvellous weekend at the top for us as we extended our lead at the top to 4 points over Vissel Kobe after they drew 2-2 with Tochigi SC. Our gap to V-Varen Nagasaki in 3rd stayed at 7 points after the Kyushu outfit bounced back from their defeat to FC Gifu with a 2-1 home victory over Tokyo Verdy. Kyoto Sanga were the biggest winners in the bottom half of the top 6 after they won 4-1 over Ehime FC.

After them, nobody from 5th to 11th won a game in what was a lost chance for all the teams to push themselves into the top 6. Consadole Sapporo and Tokushima Vortis pressured the other teams as they won in the earliest 2 games of the weekend which meant Mito slipped down to 14th. The bottom of the table had one crazy day with Giravanz Kitakyushu destroying Roasso Kumamoto 7-0 at home whilst FC Gifu came from behind to beat Gainare Tottori 4-3 on the road to move off of the bottom of the table with back-to-back wins. ThespaKusatsu Gunma almost denied this but conceded a last-minute equaliser against Montedio Yamagata after being 2-0 up to draw 2-2.

★★★ Amazing J! ★★★

Stats
Mito HollyHock 0-2 Gamba Osaka

Photos taken from Sponichi, ameba and J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Originals here, herehere and here.

Goodbye again to Leandro and Ienaga. Hello to the arriving Adi Rocha.

We learnt about the news that none of us fans wanted to hear today, as Leandro and Akihiro Ienaga will not be staying at the club beyond the end of their loans, which end on the 30th June. Their final game will be against Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku. Brazilian striker Adi Rocha has been signed already to take over Leandro’s boots in what has been a hectic day for transfer news.

Let’s start with Leandro. We all knew that he wanted to stay with Gamba, stating that he was happy where he is with his family and he was enjoying his football at Banpaku. He returned to the club last summer following stints at Qatari sides Al-Sadd and Al-Rayyan. He was forced out of Al-Sadd after they signed Spanish giant Raul and he soon found comfort in his old employers.

During his time at Gamba for the second time, he scored an exception 28 goals in 36 games in all competitions but he was unable to save us from our inevitable drop from J1 last season. Gamba scored a total of 89 goals in all competitions during his yearlong stay at the club to date, scoring 24.92% of our goals in that time. His goal to game ratio comes in at 1 goal to every 1.29 games. He has been absolutely wonderful for us and to say we will miss him is an understatement. It will strange watching Gamba take on FC Gifu for the first time without him.

Leandro and Ienaga

The question is where will he go now? Technically speaking he will have to go back to Al-Sadd, but that will more than likely be a brief stop (if a stop at all) before he heads on to a new team. Vissel Kobe are supposedly sniffing around, trying to lure him back to our rivals as they are favourites to land him on a loan deal. Teams like Cerezo Osaka, Nagoya Grampus and FC Tokyo, surely amongst others, are rumoured to be keeping an eye on the situation with the hope of stealing the forward.

All I can say is “Thank You” to Leandro for his goals, work rate, desire, passion and love for the club. It is a shame we could not keep you but you will stay in hearts of many fans for many years to come. Your smiling face after scoring will be the biggest loss.

It also comes with regret for me to write that Akihiro Ienaga will also be leaving the club after joining the club at the same time as Leandro did half-way through the 2012 season. He scored 7 goals in 35 games in all competitions, including a goal against the Pigs in the Emperor’s Cup last season. His only goal this season was a spectacular one at that, a volley against Consadole Sapporo in a 3-1 away win. We have often questioned his attitude this season as he is undoubtedly a top player who, on his day, could destroy any team.  He came from Mallorca of Spain after a brief stop in South Korea, playing for Ulsan Hyundai, before he returned to his original club.

There will surely be a whole bunch of teams wanting his signature because there is no doubting his talent. Rumours have suggested a team in Australia has made him an offer as it is very unlikely that he will fit into Mallorca’s plans. Wherever he goes, he can definitely be a success if his heart is in it.

To Aki, you have dazzled us at times with your nonchalant touches, top goals but also frustrated us with your lacklustre performances and bad attitude. Nevertheless, we would rather you have stayed than left and in recent weeks you have been great. The only saving grace is that Takashi Usami will be home soon to fill the void you leave. Take care on your next adventure. Thank you!

Leandro and Ienaga will make their final bows as Gamba Osaka players against Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku on 29th June. I will fortunately be there and I might shed a tear or two in their final game. They still have 2 more matches to show us their best and sign-off on a high note. Fagiano Okayama and Tokushima Vortis should be quaking in their boots, given that Leandro and Ienaga will give us one final push on our path back home.

Joined with the news that Leandro and Ienaga would not be staying was the news that 27 year-old Brazilian striker Adi Rocha, full name Adi Rocha Sobrinho Filho, would be joining the team on a full transfer in what will be a like-for-like move that will cover Leandro’s departure and he will also probably take over the number 9 shirt. Rocha will join from Romanian Liga 1 side Steaua Bucharest.

Adi RochaHe has spent the bulk of his professional career in Europe with stints in Austria, Germany and of course Romania. He spent the 2007-08 season at LASK Linz, scoring just 2 goals in 19 appearances, with most of his time being spent on the bench, forcing him to make a move to Austria Kärnten where he played in 16 league matches and he was able to net 10 goals, allowing his team to finish ahead of his former employers LASK. He then moved to Energie Cottbus during the winter transfer window of the same 2008-09 season and was there for 2 and a half seasons but only managed 1 appearance after suffering from a persistent cartilage injury which he picked up in his first game for the club.

He found his home in Romania with Concordia Chiajna in 2012 as he helped his new side finish 9th in their first season in the league via promotion, where Adi netted 8 goals in 15 appearances in the league. He started all of those 15 matches and looked to have gotten over his injury problems. His impressive play earned him a move to the other team in Bucharest, and big boys Steaua, where he followed his manager from Concordia to the eventual winners of Liga 1 in 2013. Adi started only 11 games adding to 5 substitute appearances, but managed to find the net 9 times. Being out of favour at the Champions of Romania meant that he let his contract run down and will now come to Osaka to find his place once more.

This must have been the back-up plan that Gamba had made if Leandro’s loan was either not extended or if his loan was not turned into a permanent move. Rocha’s contract was coming to an end at Steaua and this free transfer should be a worthwhile one. Nevertheless, you can look at our squad and see that we have more than enough options with Paulinho, Hirai, Kawanishi, Sato and Hoshihara all strikers, whilst Shu Kurata and Takashi Usami can easily be support strikers. The number 99 of Steaua will do well to succeed at Banpaku but with short videos on YouTube showing that he does have some speed, strength, height and an eye for goal, it might just be a top signing after all. Only time will tell.

Rocha can join training from Tuesday (18th June) which will give him time to get to know his future team-mates until 19th July, which will be the day he can finally join the squad rota, with his first match a potentially being the Kansai Derby against Kobe at Banpaku a day later. I am hoping that he can be a real success and make us almost forget Leandro. Welcome to Banpaku Adi, and ガンバってください!

Photos taken from Facebook and ziuanews. No copyright infringement intended. Originals here and here.

Match Preview – 15/06/2013 – J2: Section 19 – Mito HollyHock v Gamba Osaka

Tokyo Verdy v Mito HollyHock

Having been made to work hard down to our lack of a finishing touch, we came away from Kyushu last time out with a 1-0 victory and now head on the road once more to K’s Denki Stadium in Mito to take on the perennial mid-table side Mito HollyHock, with a local kick-off time of 18:00. Having amassed 5 straight victories confidence should be at its highest and another 3 points is what will be expected for our lads once more.

The hosts come into this game off the back of a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Tokyo Verdy, who have the best defence in the league but simply find it hard to score goals. Mito could only muster 2 shots on target throughout the match and were dominated possession-wise but they held on for the point. That made their away form 3-3-3 in terms of wins, draws and defeats and this now matches their home form.

Yet it is the home form that we want to look at the most given that this game is held at Mito’s home stadium. They got off to a bad start at home this season, picking up just 4 points from 9 in what were winnable games against Gunma and Ehime in particular, but they did beat Toyama. They then suffered at the hands of Matsumoto Yamaga but then bounced back with a smash-and-grab 2-0 victory over JEF United. This was followed by 2 draws against Yokohama and Nagasaki, then an expected 4-1 win over FC Gifu. Their last home game came against Vissel Kobe who ran out 2-0 winners in what was a very open performance by the home side and they left masses of space for the visitors to get in at ease. If they have not learnt from their mistakes in that game, then I would be very surprised but very happy.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

Looking at the head-to-head form between Mito and Gamba is very interesting. There have been 3 meetings in total with all of them being at Banpaku in the Emperor’s Cup. The first tie was in 2001 when Gamba won 5-0 with Takahiro Futagawa being one of the goal scorers that day. The next meeting did not come until 2011 with Mito winning 3-2 at Banpaku in extra-time with current players T. Suzuki and Ozawa getting on the score sheet. We did not have to wait long to inflict revenge as we again met in the 3rd round of the cup last season, with Leandro netting the only goal as we went on to make it to the final.

Looking at the teams’ conditions now as we can start speculating on the starting XIs. As defenders Hiroki Kato and Ryo Shinzato are the only players being slated not to make it for the match, Mito will probably stick with a very similar starting line-up for this match. They played a 4-4-2 formation away to Verdy last week and being at home, I would expect them to have a go whilst still being cautious at the back. You can see that starting line-up from the Verdy match up to your right.

They will be hoping that Leandro is not able to make it after he broke/fractured his left hand. He was wearing a bandage last weekend against Giravanz and had to be substituted at half-time for Shota Kawanishi. The Brazilian has been training since Tuesday but Kenta Hasegawa is being careful with Leandro’s injury. You would expect that he will not start on Saturday, so the question is who would take over his spot? We all know Shoki Hirai is a natural goal scorer but he lacks the work ethic that Hasegawa likes in his teams, plus the pair do not seem to get on very well. You would have to assume that Kawanishi will get his first start of the season and that he will give 100%, like he did against Giravanz. Other than that, I would expect the team to stay the same. We might just see Keisuke Iwashita back on the bench after he participated in a training match last Sunday but we do not want him to rush back.

Daiki Niwa

As for my player to watch, if I knew that Leandro was definitely out and I knew who would replace him, I would get you to keep your eye on them. As the situation is all in the air at the moment, I have gone for Daiki Niwa as my player to watch instead. To be honest, he has been very strong in his last 2 starts and has impressed me with his no-nonsense attitude in defence and he has cut out the erratic nature of his performances. Also, he has been commanding other players at the back and is clearly enjoying his role next to young Nishino. I hope that he can continue in this golden patch of form and prove me and all the other doubters that he can step-in well for Konno and Iwashita, and maybe even take their starting spot from them. Keep up the good work, Daiki!

In terms of what I expect the result to be, I think a 2-0 away win will be on the cards for us. With or without Leandro, we should definitely have enough to take down this midfield outfit with no problems at all. Of course, it all depends on if they go for it or whether they sit back and counter-attack but we have shown the quality to get through teams like this, albeit eventually, and if we can take our chances better than last weekend, I think Mito are going to have a tough day at the office. I would expect them to make some decent chances though and we must be wary of their attacking force, particularly on the counter, and they have shown that they can give the better teams in the league a run for their money. But with 5 wins in a row and us seemingly enjoying our football, I have (and so should you) full confidence that we can come away from Mito with all 3 points.

Photo taken from f.image.geki.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.