Match Report – 20/07/2013 – J2: Section 25 – Gamba Osaka 3-2 Vissel Kobe

Gamba OsakaWooooooohooooooooooo!!! Gamba defeated our Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe 3-2 in an absolutely thrilling game which saw both teams go hell and leather for the 3 points in front of 18,193 people in what was our biggest crowd at Banpaku this season. A returnee stole the show for the hosts whilst my final in-person match in Japan was a wonderful, nervy but overall fitting way to bow out of things!

After drawing 1-1 with Giravanz Kitakyushu last weekend, Kenta Hasegawa decided to ring the changes as 5 modifications to the starting line-up were made. In defence, Akira Kaji returned for Oh Jae-Suk after serving his one match suspension for picking up 4 yellow cards for the season. In midfield, Tomokazu Myojin, Takahiro Futagawa and Kotaro Omori all traded places with Paulinho, Kenya Okazaki and Hiroyuki Abe. Omori picked up his first ever start in what was a big call by Kenta Hasegawa, as was including the fading legs of Myojin. All these changes meant that Yasuhito Endo was given a forward-thinking role in-behind the main striker, who was none other than Takashi Usami, picking up where he left off 2 years ago by returning to play against Vissel Kobe. Last time out, it finished 3-2 to Gamba on Usami’s final match. Would things be the same on his return?

Usami’s inclusion to the starting eleven and Adi Rocha’s inclusion on the bench kicked-out Shota Kawanishi and Shoki Hirai from the entire squad, whilst the other 4 players who were not starting this week but did last week all made the bench. Sadly, no place for Takaharu Nishino once again.

As for Vissel, they kept with the same starting eleven that scrapped past Kataller Toyama the weekend before and their bench included attacking options all over. Although both teams were playing a 4-2-3-1 formation that would switch to 4-4-1-1 when defending, the attacking threats were very apparent from the word go and the winner would be the team that took its chances when they arrived.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Myojin, Konno, Omori, Endo, Futagawa, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Okazaki, Uchida, Rocha, Paulinho.
Vissel Kobe XI – Tokushige, Okui, Lee, Iwanami, Hayashi, Ogawa, Hashimoto, Estiven, Mazinho, Popo, Tokura.
Vissel Kobe Subs – Kishi, Kim, Tanaka, Mihara, Tashiro, Yoshida, Mogi.

1st Half:
The emphasis for this match was to start well and show signs that we could threaten Vissel and for the first few minutes, we practically controlled possession. Not good enough as Vissel took the lead on exactly the 5th minute thanks to an absolute pile driver by Popo. Mazinho sent in a corner from the left but it was flicked away by Iwashita to the edge of the area where former Gamba player Hideo Hashimoto slightly flicked the ball into the path of Popo who absolutely belted a low shot from 25 yards through a huge crowd of players and past the helpless Fujigaya who had no chance in saving it. What a start for Vissel, what a blow for us. I was fearing the worst.

Usami

Not for long though! We replied just 2 minutes later to make it 1-1 through who else but Takashi Usami. We kept possession well and worked our way through the Vissel defence. Usami played a quick pass to Omori who immediately passed to Endo slightly to the left. He tried to play a pass through to either of those two or Futagawa but it was blocked. Fortunately, the ball came back to him and he passed to Omori, this time on the right side of the box and he played a lovely pass to Futagawa in the box who immediately knocked it back to Endo who was running into the area. He saw a tackle coming and let the ball run through his legs to Usami, who took 2 touches before sliding the ball home into the bottom corner, giving Tokushige no chance. What a way to reply! The football was excellent, there was speed and Vissel were undone so easily. Game on! A sense of relief right there.

But to think that it would be all good from here would have been massively wishful thinking. The game was very tight but we controlled the possession and there were no real threats from Vissel. In a first half of few chances, the next one game in the 12th minute as Iwashita played a lovely ball over the top for Usami to chase down the right. He played a simple pass to Kaji who was tackled but the ball fell to Konno on the edge of the penalty area but his shot was superbly deflected high and wide by Hashimoto.

Vissel KobeWe had another good chance in the 27th minute as Omori dropped deep centrally and played a superb pass to Kaji down the right. He drilled a cross into the area and after some less-than-convincing defending, the ball came to Konno on the far left but his shot was blocked and was eventually picked up by Tokushige.

I definitely felt we are the better side but we needed to make it count before half time. My wishes were heard by the players as Takashi Usami made it 2-1! Yasuhito Endo strolled over to take a corner from the left side in the 39th minute; he sent his cross to the back post towards Keisuke Iwashita who had pulled away from the main pack. He beat Okui to the ball and headed a controlled pass back across the box to Usami, unmarked, who instinctively turned the ball in from 4 yards with 4 players, including the Vissel keeper, on the line. Shocking defending there but nothing more than we deserved. ♪ Oh Usami Takashi ♪

Mazinho did have a half chance to level just before the break in the 43rd minute as he easily turned Omori in midfield following a Vissel corner and he played a one-two before lashing a powerful shot well wide of the far post with Fujigaya more than likely having it covered if it was on target. Half time arrived and I was delighted with how we had played and controlled the match but with that additional bite up front. I felt we needed one more goal if we were to decisively not lose.

2nd Half:
EndoVissel definitely needed to make a change as they took of Ken Tokura and brought on Tashiro. It did not change the tide of the game though as we made it 3-1 just 9 minutes into the second half thanks to Yasuhito Endo. Konno started the play off in his own half, turning well under pressure to play a quick one-two with Iwashita before playing the ball wide to Fujiharu. He then played a quick one-two with Usami, who dragged Okui out of position, which allowed Fujiharu to attack the open space on the left. But not for long though as he spotted Endo running down the middle unmarked with Iwanami caught unawares. His pin-point cross found Yatto and he headed back across goal from 12 yards and his attempt somehow managed to beat Tokushige who should have done better, but we were 3-1 up as the ball squirmed past the keeper’s hand and into the bottom corner. I hugged and grabbed anyone I could and could not believe how easy it was. Vissel were simply too open and we used speed and precision to carve them open once more. Kenta Hasegawa’s jump in the air said it all!

Yet we let Vissel back into the game immediately and it was Tashiro with the 2nd goal for the visitors. Kobe managed to get the ball all the way across to the left but Hayashi’s cross was deflected only into the path of Mazinho played it back to Hayashi in space. He was given too much time and was able to cross directly onto the head of Tashiro who had left Niwa unawares as he drifted onto Fujiharu who had no chance in getting back to it and the sub nodded easily past Fujigaya to get the game back on. Niwa is certainly the weakest link in the back 4 and the sooner Nishino gets back in, the better!

Yet Omori almost restored the 2 goal lead in the 57th minute as he dummied and came inside from the right and let a cracker of a shot go from around 25 yards but the shot went inches wide of the left post with Tokushige beaten all ends up. Just 7 minutes later and Popo wasted the best chance Vissel got to equalise. They broke from defence down the left and Ogawa was covered well by Kaji but Niwa decided to leave his centre-back position to leave Fujiharu alone with Popo and a man coming in behind him. Popo controlled the ball and caught Fujiharu unbalanced but his shot from 17 yards went miles over. Niwa, Niwa, Niwa…

KajiBefore and after that action, we made subs as Futagawa and Omori were taken off for Okazaki and Abe respectively as Hasegawa was brave and bold to let 2 youngsters take on the mantle of defending the lead, whilst Mogi came on for Hayashi as Vissel searched for the equaliser. But it was Hiroyuki Abe who should have sealed all 3 points 87th minute, but only after Mazinho had another fizzer fly just past the post. Fujiharu cleared after a Vissel free kick and Okazaki chased and beat his man and attacked with Usami making a run to draw away Estiven from Abe who joined the attack from midfield. He took a touch and drilled his shot past Tokushige… and the far post. Inches!

Usami was replaced by the brilliant Tatsuya Uchida who cemented our defensive wall which was not beaten in the final minutes of the match. The final whistle went and hugs, high fives and more hugs were free to anyone! I was caught on TV fist pumping and the win was absolutely massive and the feeling was brilliant. He had come into the game wounded but had left it the proud and decisive J2 leaders. 1 year since a defeat at home in any competition. Thanks, Vissel!

Man of the Match:
Usami and EndoWell well well, several players really impressed me and I will have to pick 2 players because their contributions were priceless. Nevertheless, I want to say that Akira Kaji and Hiroki Fujiharu were excellent at the back and Keisuke Iwashita was definitely in control of the erratic Daiki Niwa. Konno was the heart of the defensive midfield pairing whilst Kotaro Omori was wonderful in attack and in defence on his first start and he did what we missed against JEF. Yet Yasuhito Endo and Takashi Usami had the biggest impact on the match with their goals and influence on the goals. Yatto was superb in the advanced role and definitely caused so many problems and showed his intelligence to leave the ball for the first goal, precision to find Iwashita to knock down to Usami for the second and then to storm forward and net the eventual winner. As for Usami, he had 2 chances and netted the both like a proper striker and returned home with a bang. He also linked very well with the rest of the players and had a hand in the third goal, playing a nice one-two with Fujiharu. お帰りなさい、貴史!

Where it leaves both teams:
The victory gives us a 3 point gap to Vissel at the top of the table as they lost their 2nd game on the road in a row. That was also Vissel’s 5th defeat of the season and are on 50 points compared to our 53 and we have a better goal difference by +10. Vissel will be extremely nervous looking behind them as JEF United took 3rd place after winning 1-0 over Ehime FC which took them to their sixth win in a row and are now 3 points behind Kobe. V-Varen Nagasaki lost out as they dropped to 4th after drawing 1-1 to Kataller Toyama, with Kyoto Sanga replicating that result at Kitakyushu. Avispa Fukuoka kept 6th place as they beat FC Gifu 2-0 but are closely followed by Tokushima Vortis who won 4-1 away to Gunma and are 2 points behind Fukuoka. Fagiano Okayama also won (not a draw!) to stay within 3 points of Avispa whilst Consadole Sapporo and Tochigi SC, as well as our next opponents Tokyo Verdy, all sit on 35 points. Tochigi have not won a match in 7 games and are on a massive slide.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha… Vissel Kobe.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 3-2 Vissel Kobe

Photos taken from amd.c.yimg.jp, stat.ameba.jp, 山田亜夢 and blogimg.goo.ne.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Originals herehere and here.

Match Preview – 20/07/2013 – J2: Section 25 – Gamba Osaka v Vissel Kobe

Gamba Osaka Prediction

My final Gamba game in person will be a top-of-the-table clash which sees Gamba host Vissel Kobe at Banpaku on Saturday, with a kick-off time of 18:00. The teams are on the same number of points but Gamba have a better goal difference which keeps us top.  The visitors will have to win if they want to reach the summit once again. What a match it should be!

The last time these two sides met was back on match day 13 when Vissel comprehensively beat us tactically in a 2-0 victory for the hosts that saw Gamba lose a match for the first time in the season. It was a tough blow to take but we bounced back from it well and closed down a 6 point gap from Vissel and even had a 5 point lead at one point, only to be pegged back last week.

Vissel closed the gap thanks to a very late strike by Mazinho against Kataller Toyama to record a 1-0 win. That made it 4 wins out of 5 for our Kansai rivals and it was their 2nd clean sheet in a row. Added to our 2 wins, 2 draws and a defeat in our last 5 games and there is the reason why we are on equal points.

If we look at Vissel’s away record, we can see that they have won 6, drawn 3 and lost 3 this season. Their last away trip was to Okayama where they lost 1-0 thanks to a stunner by Oshitani early on. They have kept just 4 clean sheets on the road and only 2 have come in wins. But if we add Gamba’s home form into the equation, then we can see that we have won 5 and drew 6 so far at home. As we did not lose to Giravanz last week, it meant we are unbeaten in a year at Banpaku with last defeat against Yokohama F.Marinos on the 14th July 2012. Shallow consolation when we have won just 7 of 19 games at Banpaku in that time.

Vissel Kobe v Kataller Toyama

Onto the team line-ups now and Gamba fans will be delighted that the wait for Takashi Usami and Adi Rocha is now over. The question is will either of them start the derby match? I believe one of them will, and that one is Takashi Usami. Media reports have suggested that Kenta Hasegawa has already given Usami the green light for the match and should he start, it will be his first for Gamba since 13th July 2011 when Gamba beat Saturday’s opponents 3-2 at Banpaku. He might just be the player who can cover for the loss of Shu Kurata. As for Rocha, I think the best he will manage is a place on the bench. As for the rest of the team, questions over the centre-back positions should be raised (and quite rightly), and I would like to see Konno and Nishino team-up as they are much more stable compared to Niwa and Iwashita whilst Uchida should start in midfield, but I still see Hasegawa playing the latter pairing. Akira Kaji will return at right-back whilst Hiroyuki Abe and Kenya Okazaki might lose their spots to Futagawa and Usami. Shoki Hirai might be pushed out though as he has unperformed in the last 2 games and maybe Paulinho will shift forward as the main striker, although I would rather see Kawanishi given a shot for once. I have given you my preferred team to the side, but do not expect any of it to become a reality!

As for the visitors, they will supposedly be without 4 players, all of them defenders: Soma, Komoto, Kitamoto and Kim. Apart from that, they have a full squad to pick from and they have no shortage of talent. No matter what team they choose, it will be a strong and formidable one and we will have to be at our very best to stop them. You can see their starting eleven from their win over Kataller Toyama to the side.

Takashi UsamiI think it is an obvious choice for my player to watch. Takashi Usami is back home and will be itching to right the wrongs of the last 2 years and will hope to do it against Vissel to keep them away from our top spot. It has probably been a long month for Takashi in training but he does look happy to be back and has been very impressive during those few training sessions I have seen. He probably lost some of his confidence during his stint in Germany but being a fan favourite and being allowed to strut his stuff, he should bed right back into the fold on Saturday. And if he can produce what we all know he can, I am sure he could be an extremely important player in what should be a tough match. Welcome home, Takashi!

Predicting a result for this game is harder than usual, even though I will suck at it anyway! We only need a draw to keep Vissel off the top and I would expect us to at least achieve that. We have been struggling of late without Shu Kurata but if we want to make a statement, this is the game to do it. So, you guessed right, I am going for a 2-1 Gamba win! Yes, I am keeping the streak of me predicting a Gamba win for every match this season, but we have to be positive. Sure, I would not mind us drawing but with V-Varen Nagasaki and JEF United hot on our heels if we slip up, we cannot afford to do it. We have to go out with all guns blazing and beat Vissel like they beat us back in May. If Niwa and Iwashita play together in defence, we definitely will not keep a clean sheet but with Usami back, our spark might just come back. Vissel certainly will not make it easy and will try and get us on the counter-attack – our biggest weakness – and I expect the game to be tight. But I believe! Do you?

Photo taken from J’s Goal. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview & Report – 14/07/2013 – J2: Section 24 – Gamba Osaka 1-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu

Disappointment upon disappointment as we failed to pick up all 3 points at home once again to relegation-threatened Giravanz Kitakyushu in what was a truly lacklustre performance in front of an underwhelming 9,425 paying fans at Banpaku. The performance was not great, the goal was lucky, the penalty was confusing and the weather was so-so. Get your seat-belts ready for this bumpy ride!

Gamba came into this game having been embarrassed by JEF United Chiba who won a simple tactical battle against us at the top. The last time we lost was against Vissel Kobe and we all remember how well we did after that, being unbeaten for 9 games and winning 8 of those. After such a bad day at the office, surely there would be a backlash of some kind against Giravanz.

Gamba OsakaThe opposition had come into the game having been on a terrible run of 3 defeats following what had seemed like a promising time for the Kyushu side. Having played us just over a month earlier, Giravanz had bounced back from the 1-0 defeat thanks to a Shu Kurata goal to thump Roasso Kumamoto 7-0 and then steal all three points from Gainare Tottori, winning 3-2 over the other relegation candidates. Yet they still managed to lose 3-1 to FC Gifu, 2-1 to Nagasaki and 2-0 to Tokushima. Surely they could not upset the odds in this one?

I think it was obvious however that Giravanz would turn up at Banpaku with a plan of sitting deep with 2 rigid lines of 4 and they would only shift from side to side to stop us from passing through them. That was certainly what they showed.

The team selection for Gamba was very interesting. I went to training on the morning and that was only for suspended, slightly-injured, not yet available or not included in the team players. So what was Nishino doing there? And where was Hoshihara? Kaji was suspended so Oh Jae-Suk was in at right-back whilst Hoshihara was the back-up defender having being converted from a forward. Yet Nishino surely should have been in the starting eleven as Iwashita and Niwa shipped 3 goals the other day? It was not to be. The other interesting change was Futagawa out and Okazaki in.

If it was me, I would have played Konno and Nishino in central defence with Endo and Uchida as the central midfielders. I would have played Futagawa and Abe on the wings with Paulinho supporting Kawanishi as Hirai had been poor in the last few games.

As for Giravanz, they stuck with the almost same side that had lost to Tokushima Vortis, this time Ahn out for Arai, and it seems like their preferred starting eleven as we played them only six weeks ago and they made just one change to that starting eleven, with Kim in for Oshima. Would the continuity reap some rewards this time out?

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Oh J.S., Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Paulinho, Endo, Konno, Abe, Okazaki, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Futagawa, Myojin, Omori, Uchida, Kawanishi.
Giravanz Kitakyushu XI – Takeda, Miyamoto, Watanabe, Maeda, Fuji, Kotegawa, Arai, Hakakku, Morimura, Ikemoto, Kim.
Giravanz Kitakyushu Subs – Matsumoto, Tada, Tanaka, Ahn, Oshima, Watari, Lee.

1st Half:
The formation that Gamba was playing was very interesting to watch from the stands. Although Okazaki was the “supporting” striker for Hirai, often he could be in the centre of midfield whilst Paulinho or Abe went into his position with Oh Jae-Suk acting as the right-winger, Iwashita as the right-back and Endo at centre-half. The team was all over the place in that regard and it was extremely interesting to watch the changes going on during the first half in particular. It was almost “total football” except for the fact that we looked very sluggish as soon as we got into the final third as Giravanz squeezed the space (little that there was) and we found it extremely difficult to break them down. It was another one of those games.

The first good chance of the game did come to Konno following an Endo corner which came to our number 15 who volleyed the ball with the side of his foot and he hit it crisply but unfortunately, his effort was headed clear a couple of yards ahead of the line by the Giravanz defender.

Giravanz then had a decent effort themselves after they finally got their foot onto the ball and ventured into our half. They came down their right and a pass to Ikemoto was poorly controlled but if fortunately fell to left-back Fuji who let fly from around 30 yards, centrally, and his effort was well palmed away from danger by Fujigaya to concede a corner. I believe it was from this corner that Fujigaya had one of “those” moments; as Morimura sent in the corner, Fujigaya noticed that their number 6 had actually gone for goal and looked to have beaten Fujigaya. Our keeper decided to fall over in the hope that he would get a free kick from the very young referee and so he did as the ball flew in at the near post. What the hell was he thinking? What was the referee thinking? Giravanz had got an unlucky break there.

Kenya OkazakiSpeaking of which, our goal was a lucky break. Konno picked a pass to Abe who had found space on the left and he passed towards Okazaki. It was an awful pass though as Hakkaku seemed to have it covered but so did Maeda, and the lack of communication, along with the soaking pitch, made Hakkaku slip slightly which allowed his “clearance” to land to the feet of Kenya Okazaki who ended up centrally and finished calmly with his first touch as Takeda rushed out at his feet to make it 1-0 to Gamba in the 36th minute. That made it his first ever goal at Banpaku and his second league goal of the season.

The final decent chance of the half came to Endo as he took control of a free kick just outside the penalty area and curved the ball around the massive wall but Takeda save comfortably. So we were leading 1-0 at the break but the football was not so good and Giravanz had stuck to their game plan. We were fortunate with the goal but we really needed to make it 2-0 as soon as possible to end any hopes that Giravanz may have had.

2nd Half:
It was not for a lack of trying in getting the second goal. Paulinho had the first great chance to net it with the move starting with Endo passing to Konno on the left, who quickly played on to Fujiharu. He wasted no time in passing further left to Abe who played a great pass to Konno who had continued his run into the box and he drilled a lovely pass across the box towards Okazaki but he slipped over. Nevertheless, Paulinho came in from behind and shot from 8 yards but the keeper saved his shot with his feet. So close.

Giravanz KitakyushuHirai was taken out for Kawanishi after being very quiet in the game in the 61st minute and the lad did superbly to break the offside trap not long after coming on and he squared a pass to Kenya Okazaki, beating 2 defenders with that pass, but Okazaki could only slip as he went to hit the ball and he missed the chance.

The visitors made two changes as Ikemoto and Morimura went taken off for Oshima and Lee in the 69th and 71st minutes respectively. Then chaos wreaked havoc as a simple ball over the top from Fuji at left-back caught Niwa sleeping as he was defending higher than Iwashita and Fujiharu. The latter rushed back with Kim the only Giravanz player forward. Iwashita insisted on running back onto the line instead of marking his man which left Fujiharu and Fujigaya to solve the problem. Kim won the ball and Fujiharu jumped up, put a little kick into Kim’s back and had his hands around the Korean whilst Fujigaya did not help him out. This was deemed a penalty, and rightly so, for the visitors whilst Fujiharu was given a yellow card. I have sympathy for the man though as neither of the centre-backs took control of the situation or their marker whilst Fujigaya was not in control either. What the centre-backs were doing is beyond me and it shows that there is no leader at the heart of defence. Nishino and Konno anyone?

Nevertheless, my favourite Giravanz player Kotegawa stepped up to take the penalty and with Fujigaya very bad at stopping them, it seemed inevitable that Kotegawa would score. And empathically he did, putting the kick into the top right corner, giving Fujigaya no chance. From nothing, we had shot ourselves in the foot. Hasegawa was too slow in trying to get the second goal by making another change and it had cost us. Back to square one.

Changes were made with Okazaki coming off for Futagawa whilst Kim was taken off for Tanaka for the visitors. It was Futagawa who had a superb chance to score from an Oh Jae-Suk cross almost immediately after coming on as the right-back found Takahiro unmarked at the back post and he hit a volley into the ground and past Takeda in goal, but unfortunately he hit the crossbar too, whilst the rebound was cleared off the line Maeda.

Oh Jae-Suk was taken off in a surprising substitution for Hoshihara who made his first appearance of the season as it was like-for-like. I wanted Uchida on for Abe so that Endo could push forward and support Kawanishi. Kotegawa and Oshima were booked in the 5th and 6th minutes of additional time but the visitors held on for an important point which sent their 150 or so fans home happy whilst it was disappointment upon disappointment for us. Usami and Rocha are available next week!

Where it leaves both teams:
Kobe won which sets up Saturday’s top of the table clash perfectly as both teams are on 50 points but we still lead on goal difference. What a match that will be! V-Varen Nagasaki will be hoping to capitalise on that match as they moved within 5 points of the top two whilst JEF United recorded their 5th win in a row to sit 6 points behind us. Avispa Fukuoka entered the top 6 in the place of Tochigi SC as they beat the former holders of 6th place. That 6th place looks up for grabs with 9 teams within 6 points of that position. It is going to be a fascinating battle. As for Giravanz, they stay in 20th, 3 points ahead of bottom Gifu and 2 ahead of Gunma as the mini-league at the bottom means they are within 4 points of Ehime in 16th. That will be extremely interesting indeed.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 1-1 Giravanz Kitakyushu

Photo taken from ameba. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview & Report – 07/07/2013 – J2: Section 23 – JEF United Chiba 3-0 Gamba Osaka

On the back of the big win against FC Gifu last Wednesday, Gamba took a massive blow and absolute tactical spanking at the hands of in-form JEF United Chiba. The atmosphere was electric with 15,982 fans in the Fukuda Denshi Arena which was sweltering hot throughout the day. I was excellently looked after by some wonderful Gamba fans but was ultimately left disappointed and frustrated.

JEF United ChibaI had no time to write up a match preview and have only just got time to write this report so I will do a quick preview and a quick report on the game. The hosts for this match had won their last 3 games and were unbeaten in 5 coming into the match although they had failed to keep a clean sheet in that time. JEF had been creeping slowly up the table and were keeping the pressure up behind their nearest rivals V-Varen Nagasaki and Kyoto Sanga. Their last defeat at home was a deserved 3-1 turnover against Montedio Yamagata on the 1st June. Coming into the game, they had beaten Kataller Toyama 2-1 on the road and you can see the team that started that match to the side.

It was therefore no surprise that they stuck with the team that had beaten Toyama and that team of course contained two recently departed Gamba players in the forms of Satoshi Yamaguchi and Shohei Otsuka. Oh how that would come back and bite us in the arse. Gamba on the other hand made two changes to the starting eleven that beat FC Gifu in that highest-ever scoring team in a J2 match. Oh Jae-Suk expectedly moved back onto the bench for Akira Kaji whilst I also predicted, and correctly so, that Keisuke Iwashita returned to the starting eleven in place of Takaharu Nishino. I was delighted to see that Tomokazu Myojin had not even made the bench for this round.

JEF United XI – Okamoto, Yonekura, Kim, Yamaguchi S, Takahashi, Ito, Sato K, Tanaka, Otsuka, Yazawa, Kempes.
JEF United Subs – Okubo, Takeuchi, Oiwa, Sato Y, Yamaguchi K, Nam, Machida.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Futagawa, Endo, Konno, Abe, Paulinho, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Nishino, Omori, Okazaki, Uchida, Kawanishi.

1st Half:
Gamba did dominate the first exchanges of the match with Shoki Hirai getting the first chance of the match after Fujiharu found space down the left and slid a ball down the side for Paulinho to cross for his strike partner who got a touch ahead of Okamoto in goal but he flicked it past the near post from 4 yards under pressure from the goalkeeper. It was then Paulinho who came close as he drifted into the middle  and picked up a pass from Endo, jinked his way forward and left a stunning strike crack the underside of the bar with the ball bouncing away from the goal line.

Then JEF scored with their first decent attack of the match and their first shot on goal just a minute later. They got given too much space to play a pass through our midfield and a couple of passes later and recently turned defender Yonekura got in behind Fujiharu who fell in what was a foul which was not given. This allowed the JEF man to dink over the onrushing Fujigaya from 10 yards on the right to make the partisan crowd go wild. The space given was poor and it was made to easy for JEF in the end but I still believe that Fujiharu was tripped by Yonekura. Disappointing but 78 minutes left to get at least one goal.

Gamba OsakaThe goal was the start of a never-ending downward slope. Futagawa had started on the right of midfield and continued to tuck in to the middle which left Kaji hugely exposed. JEF were exploiting this by coming down their right but then quickly switching the play to their left.  This was further compounded by the fact that Konno and Endo were not taking the initiative to cover Futagawa and Kaji. It was because of these mistakes that JEF got their second goal only 11 minutes later.

Just before the goal, JEF were coming down their left with three players against Kaji and Iwashita (with Futagawa 10 yards behind) and this forced the defence back and back and back which allowed Yazawa to crack the cross bar from 25 yards. Yet the warning signs were seen from me in the stands but not by Hasegawa on the sidelines as JEF finally made us pay. This time, Kaji failed to intercept a pass properly and then Futagawa was on the losing side of a tackle against Takahashi who was quick to his feet and had dragged over Iwashita which made space for Otsuka. He played a simple pass to the former Gamba man and from 20 yards he let fly towards he near post and somehow beat Fujigaya. A bit of luck, a bit of determination and a bit of bad goalkeeping had allowed JEF a 2-0 lead. Man that sucked so bad! I was not expecting such an easy match for JEF!

At this point, Abe and Futagawa finally swapped wings. These two combined to give us a fantastic chance to get back into the game. With JEF siting deep, Endo drifted to the left and dinked a lovely pass over the top for Futagawa who in turn squared to Abe but he was a tad slow to react and slid onto the pass but put his attempt feet wide of the right post. Glorious chance, terrible miss. Abe did have another chance before half time but he shot right above Okamoto in goal.

The first half was a complete shock to the system for the fans and players and now a point looked like treasure. Passes were being misplaced, defending was too hollow, attack was too slow and the forwards (Hirai mainly) was not getting into the game.  Many changes needed to be made but would they be made?

2nd Half:
The short answer is no. There were no changes at half time… I wanted to see Futagawa and Hirai taken off for Oh Jae-Suk and Kawanishi. Oh would have given Kaji some defensive security whilst being a threat on the offense whilst Kawanishi would have given more energy up front compared to the little work Hirai had done. Hasegawa held up his middle finger to those ideas.

Whilst we were holding onto the ball and making some half-chances, it was JEF who looked the most threatening side with their counter attack. This led to their 3rd goal as Kaji was caught out in defence was cynically took our his man which earned him his 4th booking of the season and therefore a suspension whilst Iwashita was sleeping from the free kick and allowed Yamaguchi  to head home emphatically.

Subs then came with Abe and Futagawa making way for Kawanishi and Omori but the former and Hirai were taking up the same spaces. Hirai did make way in the 72nd minute for Uchida but the game was dead and buried. Omori and Kawanishi did impress me though when they came on butt JEF’s tactics won the 3 points. We deserved what we got. Our second defeat of the season which allows Vissel to move back within 2 points of us. We are back at home on Sunday to ply Giravanz Kitakyushu and will be expecting a better performance as well as the 3 points.

Disappointment. Thank you to all of the lovely Gamba fans for your kindness though. You made the defeat somewhat bearable.

Stats
JEF United Chiba 3-0 Gamba Osaka

Match Report – 03/07/2013 – J2: Section 22 – FC Gifu 2-8 Gamba Osaka

FC GifuMy first Gamba away match was at the soaking wet Nagaragawa Stadium in Gifu which saw Gamba run out empathic winners with a stunning 8-2 score line which saw us hit almost as many goals we scored in the whole of last month. The match at times seemed like a training game in which the attack ruled the defence. The bumper crowd of 11,719 people for this midweek match saw the team at the top show the gulf in class between these polar sides.

The hosts were forced into a change at the back as Desmond was suspended for this match having picked up a yellow card in the previous game. The rock in Gifu’s defence was replaced by Shun Nogaito and this was the only change from the side that had beaten Giravanz Kitakyushu 3-1 on the very same ground just 4 days previously. They stuck with the same 3-4-2-1 formation which saw Higuchi as the main striker.

As for Gamba, there were 5 changes to the side that had started against and beat Tokushima Vortis on Saturday. The forced change came with Kurata going out for Abe which allowed Paulinho to move forward into Kurata’s former role of supporting Hirai up front. At the back, Akira Kaji and presumably Keisuke Iwashita were given a well-earned rest as Oh Jae-Suk got his first ever start for Gamba at right-back whilst Takaharu Nishino returned to the heart of the defence after giving Iwashita some game time in the previous round. The midfield saw Confederations’ Cup returnees Endo and Konno drop back into the “defensive midfield” position which saw Myojin and Uchida drop to the bench. Other than that, all was the same. Would those changes make a difference? Positively or negatively?

FC Gifu XI – Tokihisa, Arai, Masuyama, Nogaito, Moriyasu, Hattori, Sugiyama, Someya, Mizuno, Mio, Higuchi.
FC Gifu Subs – Ota, Tanaka, Sekita, Oizumi, Kiyomoto, Shibahara, Sugimoto.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Oh J.S., Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Abe, Endo, Konno, Futagawa, Paulinho, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Kaji, Myojin, Omori, Okazaki, Uchida, Kawanishi.

Paulinho1st Half:
The answer to my questions came almost immediately after kick-off as it took Gamba just 2 minutes to send the constantly-getting-wetter away fans into raptures as Paulinho continued his scoring form from the Tokushima in this match. Endo was the architect as he battled and won a ball on the half-way line and immediately released the ball to Futagawa who had tucked-in from the left. He took at touch and played a simple pass to Hirai, who did the same to his right as Endo had continued his run down the right. Yatto played an immediate pass to Paulinho who had got on the wrong side of the defender and he let the ball run across onto his left foot before passing the ball past Tokihisa from 11 yards in the middle of the goal. Simple.

The next goal came just less than 6 minutes later with our 2nd shot of the game. Abe picked the ball up on the right side of the box around 25 yards from goal and passed to Paulinho who was in the box. He intelligently let the ball run across him which fooled the defenders because Futagawa was again down the middle and he drilled the ball from 13 yards into the bottom right corner of the goal under pressure from a tackle. Great finish, swift build-up and defence dismantled.

We then had to wait almost 18 minutes for the next goal even though we did hit the post beforehand. Tokihisa kicked off from that free kick but found the chest of Konno who chested on to Hirai who flicked a pass to Futagawa, again central. He played a pass to Konno who sprinted down the left and past a flying tackle. Yasuyuki got to the edge of the box on the left and squared the ball to a free Futagawa and he touched the ball into the box with his right foot and hit a poor shot right at Tokihisa. Nevertheless, the keeper had a nightmare as he could only palm Futagawa’s weak shot into the goal. He will blame the conditions for the ball slipping past him. I blame him. Yet, the football was fast once more.

Celebrations!

The hosts were not out of the match though as they won what I call a highly questionable corner in the 34th minute which was taken by Mio. His left foot corner sent the ball curving away from goal but right onto the head of youngster Arai as he climbed higher than everyone else and planted the ball past Fujigaya. The zonal marking was flawed right there as Arai was allowed a free run at the ball from the edge of the box which allowed him such an easy header. Against such a tall opponent, surely Nishino should have been instructed to have marked him personally? It was not the case and the home crowd finally had something to shout about.

Mizuno was taken off for Kiyomoto in the 42nd minute but we managed to get the gap back to 3 goals right on the stroke of half time, but with a lot of confusion about it. Nishino won a free kick on the half-way line after he was being tugged back by Higuchi which resulted in the only booking of the match. Some Gifu players and even the stadium announcer and big screen thought the referee had blown for half-time whilst I was sure he had not! Endo took the free kick quickly to Konno, who chipped a delicious pass over the top to the lone “striker” Abe who took one touch to control the ball and one to fire it in at the near post empathically even with 2 defenders near to him. I celebrated; other Gamba fans were not sure and had to check their phones at half time to confirm the 4th goal. I was sure it counted and I was proven right.

The half time scored looked stunning and it really was. My only worry is that Gamba would turn the engine down at half time and we would not be able to see any goals down our end in the second half. Boy, wasn’t I wrong to worry!

2nd Half:
It took little over 5 minutes in the second half of the match to make it 5-1 as Konno netted his second goal of the season, following an out-to-in-swinging corner from Endo that evaded the head of Nishino at the back post but the ball bounced kindly for defender-turned-midfielder Konno and he flicked his left boot at the ball, sending a shot across Tokihisa and the defenders scrambling back onto the line could only help in aiding the ball to go in. Two of the better players for Japan at the Confederations’ Cup for Japan had combined to give Gamba a 4 goal lead.

Like that lasted for long! Arai was taken off for Sekita to steady the defence but in the 58th minute, it was 6-1 as Paulinho got his second goal of the match. Endo was given too much time on the ball just inside the Gifu half and he picked out Futagawa who had again drifted in from the left and in too much space. Paulinho got on his bike and received a chipped pass from the number 10 and he was behind the defence. Still, he had time to cut back onto his favoured left foot (all too easily) and he drilled a low and hard shot into the near post past the helpless Tokihisa. Swift again but way too much room. High 10s all round for any Gamba fan who looked like they wanted one from me, although by this point they really had no choice in the matter!

Gamba Osaka

Hirai was given a rest as Kawanishi got his chance to shine. Only 5 minutes after the 6th goal, Gifu had conceded again as we made it 7-1 and this time Konno got his brace! A high clearance from the Gifu defence was won by Nishino to Endo, flicked on to Konno, to Kawanishi, back to Futagawa who played a brilliant pass to Konno after Paulinho again left it for the runner. Konno easily dribbled his way past a flying defender and bore down on Tokihisa, continued around him and slotted home from 6 yards with the players getting back on the line only helping it on its way. Silky stuff. Speed, space, simple, shoot.

Paulinho was denied his hat-trick as he was taken off for Omori, who got his first appearance of the season. Another 6 minutes after the goal and we got another goal! Kawanishi! Endo again had too much space and time to pick out Abe who turned to attack the Gifu defence from 35 yards. He passed back to Omori who cut inside and also attacked the defence but instead of shooting, he found fellow substitute Kawanishi onside as Sekita was caught napping and Kawanishi made him pay as he took a touch and then rifled the ball into the top corner of the goal to get his first goal of the season and it was extremely well taken. But once again, Gifu were not learning. It was a training match. It was 8-1!

Myojin came on for Endo in the 75th minute. The hosts did get another goal back as Nishino was caught-out after a poor pass to Niwa got caught under his feet and he only managed to find Higuchi for the hosts who took a touch and drilled a low and powerful shot into the bottom corner of the goal from around 25 yards which gave Fujigaya no chance. It was a top strike but Nishino was guilty of being a bit sloppy there. 76 minutes down, the hosts were 8-2 down.

Kiyomoto came off for Oizumi for the hosts in the 84th minute but the game was dead and buried. It had ended 8-2 and what a match it was! Gamba had strolled to the finish line in a boring final 20 minutes (joking, I was too busy singing and dancing to ガンバガンバもっといったれ!) and the players took their deserved plaudits at the end. The goal difference was given a world of good but the best thing was that after 5 changes to the starting eleven, we only improved. I said we were adaptable, and it certainly shows!

KonnoMan of the Match:
So many of the players had fantastic games and I will point out the main ones before giving my tough Man of the Match award. Firstly, Oh Jae-Suk was excellent all game long from right back in his first ever Gamba start. I am not sure he will start against Chiba but he definitely showed his value as an attacking and defending full-back. His partner in crime Hiroyuki Abe on the right hand side was also fantastic and finally got his foot back in the starting eleven door. Futagawa got himself a full 90 minutes which equated to 2 goals and 2 assists and his use of the ball was extremely intelligent. Paulinho has made us all forget Leandro as he superbly supported Hirai going forward and bagged 2 extremely well-taken goals – he is getting better and better! Yasuhito Endo controlled the game from start to finish and picked up 2 assists on his return to the team after national duty. After all that discussion though, Yasuyuki Konno was definitely the best, if only just. He provided 2 wonderful assists, the first a burst from midfield with a great pass and the second was just a wonderful chipped pass that all but set-up Abe to score. He said he was tired on his return from Brazil but showed no signs of that as he flexed his muscles, adding 2 goals in the process, the second a mazy dribble past the helpless Tokihisa in goal. That did have me nervous as I was dying for him to shoot but he eventually obliged and capped off a sensational return to the team. Midfield is his best position for Gamba, no doubts about that!

Where it leaves both teams:
At the end of all that, Gamba are of course still top and have a wonderful +30 goal difference. Not that that matters of course because Vissel Kobe lost for the 4th time this season away to Fagiano Okayama after a stunner by Yuki Oshitani in the 2nd minute sealed the 3 points for the out-of-form hosts. This makes the gap to Vissel now 5 points whilst the gap to Nagasaki in 3rd stayed at 10 points as this season’s surprise package beat Kitakyushu 2-1. Kyoto Sanga kept up the heat in 4th with a blitzing 5-0 away win against the dreadful Tokyo Verdy whilst our next opponents, JEF United Chiba, won 2-1 away to Toyama to solidify 5th place.

Tochigi SC lost to Yokohama FC 3-1 but they stay in 6th as Montedio Yamagata lost 3-2 at home to Gainare Tottori, allowing Fukuoka to snatch 7th after their 1-0 win over Gunma. The midfield is as packed as ever but with only Gainare winning from the bottom nine teams, Gifu remain 2 points away from Gunma and 3 back from Kitakyushu. Their goal differences is the worst in the league by far so they will need to rectify that if they end up on level points with another team down there come the end of the season.

Stats
FC Gifu 2-8 Gamba Osaka

Photos taken from prt.iza.ne.jp and soccerking. No copyright infringement intended. Originals herehere and here.

Match Preview – 03/07/2013 – J2: Section 22 – FC Gifu v Gamba Osaka

FC Gifu v Giravanz KitakyushuThe first half of the season is done and it sees both of these sides at opposite ends of the table as Gamba lead J2 whilst FC Gifu sit right at the bottom of the pile in this battle between first and last. This is the second Gamba match that I will be going to and it takes place at the Nagaragawa Stadium with a kick-off time of 19:00.

FC Gifu come into this game on the back of a 3-1 victory over what seemed to be an improving Giravanz Kitakyushu, also played at the Nagaragawa Stadium, with goals from youngster Mizuno and a brace from in-form Someya. Goalkeeper Tokihisa also saved his 5th penalty of the season after facing his 7th. Gamba of course beat Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku on Saturday to keep their lead at the top of the division to 2 points over rivals Vissel Kobe. Paulinho inspired the victory with a goal and an assist with a Gamba side that misses Leandro, Ienaga, Endo and Konno. Talk about adaptability.

Talking about 2-0 victories, the first meeting between these two sides at the start of May ended in a 2-0 win for Gamba with goals from Hiroyuki Abe and Shoki Hirai. Gifu could have conceded more goals if it had not been for defender Desmond, who had a belter of a game.

Although Gifu are bottom of the table, they come into this game on some very good form having picked up 10 of their 17 points in their last 5 games which included 3 wins and a draw. The run started with a draw against Okayama, followed by a last-minute winner against Nagasaki, a stunning 4-3 away win against Tottori, then a 4-0 battering at the hands of Sapporo and then that mentioned 3-1 home victory over Kitakyushu. These last 5 games have produced 18 goals split equally between Gifu and their opponents. They have only kept one clean sheet in that time and 4 in total this season, all coming from 0-0 draws. There has been nothing but entertainment recently from Gifu and they should be very confident right now. But so should we!

Gamba Osaka PredictionTheir injury and suspension list is something not to be desired however. Their defensive rock Desmond, who just got back from Italy for personal reasons, was booked in the win on the weekend and is therefore suspended for this match – what a massive loss. They also have six reputed injuries – defenders Shuto Tanaka and Hiroshi Sekita, midfielders Ri Han-Jae and Hidemi Jinushizono and strikers Taira Inoue and Fabio. Only Desmond will miss out from the team that played on the weekend which you can see to the side.

As for Gamba, Akihiro Sato is probably not ready yet. Shu Kurata’s injury puts him out for around 8 weeks and he could be a massive loss if we did not have such a strong team. His loss could be covered by Abe, Paulinho or Endo, with the latter along with Konno, potentially making a return in this match. Personally, I would play Endo in the advanced role as he used to do so well in whilst keeping Paulinho out on the right. As for the return of Konno, I would prefer to see him back into the midfield alongside Uchida. That is not to say that Hasegawa will not put him back into defence, but then the question of who he replaces would arise, with Niwa in great form whilst Iwashita needs games whilst not forgetting young Nishino. If that was to happen though, Endo would be dropped back into his standard role and you would expect Abe to get the starting position either out on the right or behind Hirai. All these changes would see Myojin finally drop to the bench, at least! My desired team is to your side though!

Keisuke IwashitaKeisuke Iwashita returned to the starting eleven on Saturday and will be my man to watch on Wednesday. He had a solid game next to Niwa but did look like he was lacking a bit of sharpness next to his defensive partner. This will obviously take time but as a favourite of the fans, I am sure they will be eager to see him continue in the starting eleven. He looked very strong before his injury against Tottori and had scored 2 goals in that time. Game by game, I am hoping to see him get back to that level and beyond it and against an in-form FC Gifu side, he might be tested on those points. Good luck, Keisuke!

Even with FC Gifu at full speed recently, we must not forget their 4-0 humbling against Consadole Sapporo. All those injuries have forced them to be a bit more attacking and open at the back and without Desmond, they could struggle once more. Sure, we do not have Leandro anymore but in Shoki Hirai we have someone who scores goals. Therefore, a 3-0 away win is what I am going for for the midweek match. I do expect Gifu to give the probably full Nagaragawa Stadium their absolute best but with a shrinking squad, this game might just catch up with them. In the games they have won recently, they have had to go for it and done it well but this game might see them try to stifle us and counter attack as it is just too risky for them to be so open. We might well have to be patient but I always fancy us to score and if we get an early one, Gifu could be in trouble. But in Japanese football, sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.

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

Match Report – 29/06/2013 – J2: Section 21 – Gamba Osaka 2-0 Tokushima Vortis

My first day at Banpaku could not have been better (except Kurata…) as we strolled to a 2-0 win over Tokushima Vortis in a game which saw the visitors being very rigid. The crowd of 13,706 people was full of fantastic energy before, during and after the game. Akihiro Sato, Takashi Usami and Adi Rocha all met this eager blogger who left Banpaku with a smiling face, new friends and a few presents from fans!

Sato and MeCertain changes to the line-up and bench were necessary as Leandro and Ienaga are no more to Gamba. Shoki Hirai got his deserved starting spot as the striker supported by Shu Kurata whilst Takaharu Nishino was given a rest on the bench as Keisuke Iwashita made his first start since getting injured against Gainare Tottori in round 11. On the bench, Sota Kawanishi returned due to the space left by Hirai and Leandro jointly, whilst Kotaro Omori got his first appearance in the first team this season as he also made the bench. The average age of that bench was just 23 so the future is bright. Endo and Konno were both given some well-earned rest despite being available once more. FC Gifu away might see them return on the bench with JEF in mind on the Sunday.

The visitors made two changes themselves as defender Miki and midfielder Suzuki were replaced with Fukumoto and Osaki taking their places. Fukumoto had a loan stint with Gamba in 2008 and had little playing time at Banpaku. The visitors came with a 4-4-2 formation that shifted to a 3-4-2-1 formation when defending with Hamada dropping into defence, Fujiwara and Alex as wing-backs and Douglas as the lone striker. They had come to counter attack and do it very poorly indeed.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Iwashita, Niwa, Fujiharu, Paulinho, Uchida, Myojin, Futagawa, Kurata, Hirai.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Nishino, Abe, Omori, Okazaki, Kawanishi.
Tokushima Vortis XI – Matsui, Fujiwara, Saito, Fukumoto, Alex, Osaki, Hamada, Aoyama, Shibasaki, Tsuda, Douglas.
Tokushima Vortis Subs – Hasegawa, Miki, Hanai, Miyazaki, Suzuki, Takasaki, Kim J.M.

1st Half:
Gamba OsakaGamba kicked the game off but neither team had much going forward in the first 15 minutes as Tokushima were very happy to sit back and allow us to pass the ball around in front of the defence. Yet it was the visitors who had the first real chance of the game as Hamada had a looped shot tipped onto the bar in stunning fashion by Yosuke Fujigaya to prevent the visitors from taking an unlikely lead. It was outstanding goalkeeping. Myojin was booked for a cynical foul as Tokushima did have a short-lived foray on the counter and the resulting kick was wasted as Douglas could not direct his header.

Neither team had many opportunities after that as Tokushima sat back once more but we finally made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute after a Kaji cross was directed out to the edge of the box to prevent Hirai from getting his boot on it, but the ball fell to Paulinho  who chested the ball inside onto his favoured left foot and his standard 25 yard screamer-gone-wrong was now a 100% 25 yard screamer as he shot swerved away from Matsui and into the bottom corner of the net which gave the keeper no chance. Stunning finish! Myself and the fans around me went ape shit.

And we did not have to wait long for the second goal as Paulinho now turned provider for Hirai. The team had kept the ball for at least 3 minutes with Tokushima getting so much of a sniff and Paulinho cut inside from the left once more to pass to Kurata, who turned and played a delightful pass towards Futagawa but he jumped over it to let Paulinho, who had ran around the back and was now into the penalty area, to slide the ball across the goal unselfishly for Shoki Hirai to get his foot onto the end of it and make it 2-0. The same celebrations came from us fans whilst Hirai gave us his standard dance once more (long time no see!). Leandro who? Ienaga who?

Half time came and I had the feeling that the game was over and done with. Was I to be proven right? The defence was solid, the passing was crisp and we were patient. Tokushima did not seem to have it in them.

2nd Half:
Tokushima VortisTokushima were limited to half-half-chances from range whilst we were able to counter in the 58th minute through Paulinho who passed to his right to Kurata who looked up and picked out an unmarked Hirai at the back post but the defender put him under enough pressure to force a weak header right at Matsui. Unusual to see Hirai not score when he hits the target.
Uchida was also booked for something that goes beyond me. Futagawa was traditionally replaced by Abe in the 74th minute whilst Hirai picked up a tiny injury towards the end of the game and was replaced by Kawanishi. In-between those subs for us, Okazaki had a header well saved by Matsui following an Abe cross whilst Fujiwara came off for Hanai with a minute to go for the visitors. Douglas had been wasting his chances all game and continued to do so in the 91st minute as he headed straight at Fujigaya whilst being unmarked.The referee was having a shocking day as all the calls he made were wrong and he particularly had something against Paulinho and he decided to book Iwashita for I don’t know what whilst Shu Kurata got injured in and around the 65th minute but no card was given, neither was a foul. Shu was replaced by Kenya Okazaki and with Kurata out for around 8 weeks, maybe Endo will take his place coming forward. Suzuki and Kim were brought on before that injury for the visitors as Aoyama and Tsuda were taken off.

I was a happy chappy at full time and even the Kurata injury could not mask my happiness. It was not a classic by any means but going into the half-way stage of the season, we kept top spot. Kurata will be a loss but if there is anything that we have shown this season, it is adaptability to losses of players. We will continue to do that!

Next stop, Gifu!

Man of the Match:
PaulinhoMany players impressed me on my first visit to Banpaku like Niwa who was calm at the back, Fujigaya who made some terrific calls and saves. Fujiharu and Kaji were great as always, Uchida was cool, Kurata was his usual self until his injury and Hirai did what I expected of him. Yet in a game with few clear chances, it was Paulinho who added some spice to the game with his stunning goal and unselfish assist and made my day at Banpaku a very happy one. He was all of the pitch and was a huge threat coming in off the right to use his left foot and he worked extremely hard which made all the fans happy. He has really shown his worth to the team in these last few weeks and will do a better job than Ienaga did. Excellent stuff mate!

Where it leaves both teams:
At the half-way stage of the season and it is Gamba of course who take the lead at the top of the table thanks to this victory. Vissel Kobe did keep the gap to 2 points though as they won in the last minute of their match against Roasso thanks to a penalty by Sugiura. The gap to 3rd for us is now 10 points after Nagasaki, Kyoto and Tochigi all drew whilst JEF moved into 5th after a 2-1 win over rivals Tokyo Verdy. Montedio Yamagata are in full steam as they were the only team from 7th to 15th (excluding Yokohama FC) to pick up a win. Tokushima slipped down to 15th and are closer to the relegation area than the play-off places.

Things at the bottom could not be more exciting as FC Gifu and Gunma both won which put Tottori in 21st, 2 points ahead of Gifu, whilst Gunma rose to 20th and are within shooting range of Kumamoto and Kitakyushu. FC Gifu are our next opponents at the Nagaragawa Stadium on Wednesday at 19:00 local-time, a game which I will also be going to. They are in some great form at the moment so the game should be a cracker.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 2-0 Tokushima Vortis

Photo taken from sanspo. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.