My 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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Man 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.