Match Preview – 29/09/2013 – J2: Section 35 – Gamba Osaka v Ehime FC

Gamba Osaka PredictionWe return to good old Banpaku after a weekend away in Yamaga that saw us drop 2 points and give up our lead on points at the top of the table although we still sit top of the pile as we welcome Ehime FC to Banpaku for the first time ever in this 18:00 local time kick off.

We come into this match having let a dominating performance against Matsumoto Yamaga FC be ruined by defensive and goalkeeping failures that forced us to take just 1 point in the 2-2 draw against the 10 men of Yamaga. This allowed Vissel Kobe to sneak onto the same number of points as us but they remain in 2nd on goal difference.

Our visitors, Ehime FC, come into this game on the back of a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Yokohama FC on Monday, with the only goal coming from ex-Gamba man Shinichi Terada who bought his ticket and won the lottery by netting from 25 yards or so thanks to awful goalkeeping by the “new Fujigaya” Yota Akimoto, who has only made silly mistakes when I have watched Ehime.

It was a goalkeeping error on his part in the reverse fixture that won us the game in a scrappy 2-1 win at the Ninjineer Stadium back at the end of May, with Yasuhito Endo netting the winner direct from a corner with Akimoto’s “goalkeeping” leaving plenty to be desired. That goal and win put us in top spot for the first time this season and we have been there ever since. It would be ironic if Ehime knocked us from that spot after aiding us in getting there in the first place.

Ehime FC PredictionThe visitors from Shikoku have not been in any sort of good form all season which accounts for their current standing of 17th place. In their last 5, they have won just once and have drew 2, losing 2. They have kept 2 clean sheets in that time but have also failed to score in two of those games, never scoring more than 1 goal in any of these 5 games in what was a run of games against teams in their part of the table. They have difficult games to come and could easily be the outsiders for the drop. They have won just 3 away games all season, taking just 12 points on the road. You cannot really see them adding to that total because they are a team that likes to profligate, scoring from just 6.4% of all their shots this season.

The team selections for both teams will be interesting. Starting with Gamba, I have been told that both Uchida and Futagawa have had knocks this week but the former should be fine. I am not so sure about Futagawa, and I think that Abe was terrible last weekend and so I would like to see Omori and Okazaki back on the wings once more if Futagawa is not fit. I do not think there will be any other changes to the team unless Uchida does not make it. Myojin is not far away from a return, neither is Shu Kurata who might hope to make the bench this weekend. Paulinho could get the nod to start if both Uchida and Futagawa are not fit, but with the news I have, I had made a wobbly prediction for the starting eleven which you can see to the side.

Ehime will be without midfielder Kazuhisa Kawahara through suspension after he picked up his 4th booking of the season. This only adds to their midfielder shortage as Tomic, Shuichi Akai and Yuta Ito are all forecast to miss out. Defender Han Hee-Hoon and striker Kengo Ishii add to the list of players who will not make the match for Ehime. The visitors will be forced into some changes but should keep their 3-4-2-1 formation, so you can see their predicted starting eleven to the side.

Daiki NiwaWe have been leaking goals for fun in recent times and the exclusion of Takaharu Nishino is baffling to say the least. So I will be looking for a strong performance by Daiki Niwa this weekend to prove to me that he has got what it takes to keep Nishino out of the starting line-up. I have a self-confessed dislike of all of our centre-backs except for Nishino and the Niwa-Konno relationship is one not for the fainthearted. In the last two matches though, Niwa has not been under pressure much and has not been at fault for any of the goals we have conceded and that is all good and fine when the team is comfortable but when the team is not, then you start to worry. I would really like to see him prove that he deserves to be in the team and that he can be part of a functional centre-back partnership with Konno. He might not be busy this weekend either, but that does not mean silly mistakes cannot occur. Let’s hope he can be solid (or not, I do not mind seeing Nishino back).

This game cannot be anything but a Gamba win. We have won 4 of our last 5 home matches and seem to be well over the period where we could not buy a win or get a streak going at home. Ehime are downright terrible away from home and could be in for a result akin to our home win over Mito HollyHock home from two weeks ago for us. Their only hope is to defend well and take a chance when it comes, which they are not particularly good at doing. If this is not a Gamba win, you can be sure that Ehime will make some news and probably knock us off top spot. I cannot see that happening though.

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Match Report – 22/09/2013 – J2: Section 34 – Matsumoto Yamaga FC 2-2 Gamba Osaka

Another disappointing away result for Gamba as we once again conceded the first goal, only to take the lead but then give away a silly equaliser, much like the Yokohama FC match. More defensive lapses cost us whilst we wasted some great chances. A record home crowd of 17.148 for Matsumoto Yamaga added an excellent atmosphere which helped the 10-man side over the line to gain an overall undeserved point.

Kenta Hasegawa made no changes to the starting eleven that demolished Mito HollyHock 5-0 as Akira Kaji shook off his foot injury that he picked up in that win. There was just one change to the bench, which saw Paulinho return once again from an injury in place of Shoki Hirai, who is out of favour and very much out of sorts. Tomokazu Myojin still has a tiny knock that is keeping him from joining in but he should be back sooner rather than later.

Matsumoto Yamaga also kept with the same starting eleven from the previous round, in which they lost 2-1 to Fagiano Okayama away. They made two changes on the bench however, with Kenta Komatsu and Shun Nagasawa coming in for Akihito Kusunose and Kohei Kurata. They stuck with their standard 3-4-2-1 system with the 2 behind the striker coming as the support.

Matsumoto Yamaga FC XI – Shirai, Iida, Tatara, Inukai, Tamabayashi, Iwanuma, Kiyama, Abe, Iwakami, Funayama, Shiozawa.
Matsumoto Yamaga FC Subs – Murayama, Kawanabe, Tetsuto, Komatsu, Iio, Rodrigo, Nagasawa.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Endo, Abe, Futagawa, Rocha, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Nishino, Omori, Okazaki, Paulinho, Kawanishi.

Matsumoto Yamaga FC Prediction

1st Half:
For the 6th away match in a row, we conceded early on in the match, also continuing the fact that we have failed to keep a clean sheet away from home since 15th June against Mito HollyHock. After Tamabayashi won a corner for the hosts down the right side even though we had started better and we paid for a bit of slack defending at the near post by Rocha, who lost his man Shiozawa. The zonal marking system allowed the Yamaga striker to flick his header in at the near post following the corner by Iwakami and Niwa could not reach far enough to stop it going in. 1-0 down after 5 minutes; the standard away start.

The goal rocked us a bit and Konno had to do some excellent defending (I have never said that before) during a one-on-one situation following a quick free kick to keep it at just 1-0. We bit back in the 14th minute as Rocha found the net for the first time in 3 league games in the 14th minute. Futagawa was given too much time and space to cross from the left edge of the penalty area and his cross led to confusion between the defence and goalkeeper, making Shirai spill the ball to Rocha who was not going to miss from 1 yard out. Game on.

Yamaga could have restored their lead almost immediately but a free header was put well over and from here, we dominated the half. Fujiharu was marauding down the left and causing problems for Yamaga, but the bigger problem came for them when their goalkeeper Shirai gathered a corner from Endo but landed awkwardly on his ankle, turning it very badly, meaning that he was substituted for Murayama in the 24th minute. We dominated ball possession but our crossing accuracy was terrible at times, as was our shooting, with Abe the biggest culprit as he sent several shots wide of the target during the first half. We were making chances but not doing much with them as Yamaga sat back and got in last minute challenges to force our efforts wide.

So finally, we took the lead in the 39th minute. After at least 20 passes with minimal contact by Yamaga players to the ball, Endo worked his magic and spotted Kaji bursting into the box down the right, so he deliciously crossed it to the right-back, who from 6 yards squared the ball across goal to Rocha to net yet another easy goal. What an awesome bit of play with the passing football and the vision by Endo to pick out Kaji. The goal was well deserved and was masterfully taken.

The goal came when Yamaga were defending at their deepest, allowing all of our players to sit in their half (except Fujigaya, of course), meaning that they could not get out. Konno did have to defend exceptionally well when Yamaga did try to catch us off guard, whilst Usami spurned an excellent chance to make it 3-1 in the 4th minute of added time as he could only hit the side netting after Fujiharu had spotted him free in the box.

The half time whistle came when we did not want it and you felt that we really needed another goal to kill off Yamaga, who had scored with their only real chance. We were wasteful, for sure, but had been patient and got the rewards from that. We needed to be stronger at the back and needed to finish off one more chance.

Gamba Osaka Prediction2nd Half:
Yet we did not do that at all in the second half and conceded another early goal. After Endo misplaced a pass in the 48th minute, we were lucky to concede just a throw-in as our defence scrambled the ball away to safety. This throw-in was taken long however and with us set-up to mark spaces and not men, Inukai started his run into the box from the edge of it with no-one challenging him. Of course, he would not have scored from just 2 yards if Fujigaya had collected the ball that was within his grasp, but the old Fujigaya made a cameo (I hope), letting the ball go straight through his hands and to the unmarked Inukai. That is why I do not like zonal marking much. It cost us both goals, joined with poor goalkeeping.

Fujigaya looked shot to pieces after that as he caused 2 heart-stopping moments before the hour mark and we were being pressed back by the Yamaga attack force that had turned up in the second half. With Yamaga being rough with their play, Endo was cut on the eyebrow and forced off for treatment, returning to the field of play just before the 60th minute. 4 minutes later, Usami should have made it 3-2 to us. A speedy chipped ball by Kaji to him was chested down to Futagawa, who chipped the ball over the defence for Usami to run onto but from 7 yards he somehow managed to volley wide of the far post and waste the best chance left in the game. Funayama responded with a 40 yard rocket that forced Fujigaya into a decent save.

Heading into the last 20 minutes, Hasegawa made two changes, taking off Usami and the shocking Abe and bringing on Kawanishi and Okazaki. Into the 73rd minute, Futagawa sent in an excellent ball from the left but nobody got on the end of it, whilst Fujiharu did the same a minute later but Okazaki was well marshalled. Just as the hosts had subbed their opening goal scorer Shiozawa for Nagasawa, they went down to 10 men as Abe was given a straight red card for a dangerous and uncontrolled challenge that saw him dive into the air and catching the battle scarred Endo on his right ankle. Absolutely no complaints for that one, although Abe was pleading his innocence in vain, whilst the partisan crowd was wrongly shocked.

With 10 minutes remaining, Yamaga changed their tactics to getting a point. With Kawanishi looking lively, his shot into the side netting was a warning as Rocha was set-up nicely by Fujiharu from the centre but the Brazilian went for pace rather than accuracy from an acute angle, forcing Murayama to punch over for a corner. Yamaga brought on Iio for Tamabayashi to sure up their defence whilst Paulinho came on for Futagawa to add another man into the attack but we did not threaten the goal and had to settle for the draw.

Considering the goals we conceded and the chances we made, we should be disappointed with the draw. I said before the game that a point would not be so bad, but the game was there to win and we failed to take our chances whilst giving away sloppy goals. Looking at the other results from the day, it was a day of disappointment in the end. The good news was that Rocha got back onto the score sheet and Paulinho made his return to the squad.

Man of the Match:
Hiroki FujiharuAlthough Rocha scored 2 goals, I never ever give him Man of the Match because he does not do anything else, even if this is what a goal scorer should do. To be honest, Hiroki Fujiharu has been on fire in recent times and was once again one of our biggest threats. Things have been difficult for us recently as we have won just 2 from the last 5 games and seem to be stuck in a rut that basically says that we know we are going to be promoted and we are fine with that. Fujiharu is playing some excellent football from left back and was always involved in the attacking play we had. He knows how to pick a cross, get past his man and make good chances. He has been the stand-out man in the last 5 games, and I love him for it.

Where it leaves both teams:
The gap at the top for us was wiped out completely as Vissel Kobe ended Tokushima Vortis’ long 12 match unbeaten run by winning 3-2 at home. We stay top on goal difference but it is really disappointing to see our 7 point lead drop to 0 points. With results going their way, Kyoto Sanga managed to take 3rd place after winning 3-2 at home to Kataller Toyama, although they still sit 14 points behind us. As Vortis, Nagasaki and JEF all lost, the gap to Consadole Sapporo in 7th is just 4 points. Their victory over Nagasaki was bad for Yamaga, who fell to 9th despite taking a point as Yamagata leaped over them into 8th. Yamaga have still got a great chance though, and will not be giving things up lightly.

Stats
Matsumoto Yamaga FC 2-2 Gamba Osaka

Photo taken from jxxxxxx.backdrop.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 22/09/2013 – J2: Section 34 – Matsumoto Yamaga FC v Gamba Osaka

Matsumoto Yamaga FC PredictionAfter our 5-0 demolition job of Mito HollyHock last weekend, we take the long trip to Nagano Prefecture to take on Matsumoto Yamaga FC at the Alwin Stadium. The kick-off time is 13:00 local time and with us chasing the title and Yamaga looking to keep their play-off hopes alive, the match should be a spicy one with hopefully both teams giving it all they have got.

Yet Yamaga’s play-off hopes were severely dented last weekend after they lost 2-1 to Fagiano Okayama in the earliest game of the weekend. With other results above them not going their way, they slipped to 5 points behind Kyoto Sanga in 6th and they themselves managed to hold onto 7th place on 48 points as the teams below them also had a bad weekend. They will be looking to make amends and keep the pressure on Sanga by beating a Kansai rival this time out.

As for us, we trotted to a 5-0 win over Mito HollyHock in what was an extremely comfortable day out where we were clinical, precise and more importantly deadly in front of goal. Takashi Usami continued his brilliant goal scoring record by making it 10 goals in 10 games since his return, easing the burden off Rocha’s somewhat slacking shoulders. We kept 1st place and have 70 points, 2 ahead of Vissel Kobe.

The meeting between these two sides earlier in the season should be remembered as the one where Gamba finally won at home at the 9th attempt in the league (in J1 and J2), with an own goal in the 4th minute the difference between the two sides, although both squandered good chances to add to/level the score. We had drawn the previous 8 games, and this was one of those turning points in our season. The relief was evident.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

Yamaga have been in excellent form recently which has seen them surge up the table and get within touching distance of that final play-off spot. Disregarding their defeat last weekend to Fagiano Okayama, they had won their previous 4 games in the league, albeit against teams (except JEF) that they should be beating if they are to make it to the play-offs. They only kept one clean sheet in that time, however. Their home form is less impressive, winning just 5 from 16 games. It took them 8 tries to finally win at home this season and have since kept 5 clean sheets, but have only beaten JEF United from the top 6, losing to just Vissel Kobe from that bunch. They have won their last two home matches though, so we shall have to wait and see which Matsumoto Yamaga turns up.

The players that will not be turning up however are goalkeeper Yosuka Nozawa, defender Kazuya Iio and midfielders Kento Tsurumaki and Yoon Sung-Yeul. Nozawa is the second-choice keeper but has been out since round 20, as has Tsurumaki, whilst Iio has not played since round 11 against Avispa Fukuoka. Yoon was last seen on the bench in round 25 against Consadole Sapporo. With all that in mind, they are expected to keep the same starting eleven that lost to Fagiano Okayama. You can see that to the side.

As for Gamba, I cannot see us making any changes to the starting eleven that beat Mito HollyHock last weekend. Akira Kaji is a 50/50 call but I have been told that he should be able to make it and if he does not, Kenta Hoshihara will obviously take his place at right-back as Oh Jae-Suk makes his way back from a slight injury. Rocha has been quiet in recent games and Kawanishi’s goal last weekend might spur him back into life. Paulinho seems to have made the trip to Matsumoto whilst Myojin’s injury is unknown as of yet, or even when he will be back. You cannot possibly change a 5-0 winning team unless there is an injury, so I think the team will stay the same.

Hiroyuki AbeHe made his return in the Emperor’s Cup two weeks ago and netted last weekend, so my man to watch is Hiroyuki Abe. He goes through these stages of playing well and then having no effect on a game and I really think we need to start seeing some consistency from the lad because I know he has talent and is a great player to have in your team. His goal last weekend was excellently taken and his stamina and determination will be needed against a team like Matsumoto. I am hoping that he improves again this weekend and can justify his selection over the recently good Omori. I am sure he can step up to the mark and give us a defensive soundness and an attacking threat.

The match is going to be a tough one and a draw would not be a bad result if Kobe fail to beat Tokushima Vortis. We will need to be cautious and ensure that Matsumoto do not get the upper hand early on as their excellent support will spur them on, I am sure. If we buckle down and get on with the task, ensuring that we are defensively sound, I can see us getting the win as long as Usami or Rocha is on the ball. I am very much looking forward to this match.

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

Match Report – 15/09/2013 – J2: Section 33 – Gamba Osaka 5-0 Mito HollyHock

Gamba Osaka

We swiftly got over our first league defeat at home for over a year to V-Varen Nagasaki by dismantling Mito HollyHock at a slightly battered Banpaku as the raging typhoon that had cancelled one game did not quite have the same effect on the proceedings in Osaka. The crowd did get affected though as only 6,559 people braved the rain and wind to see us hold onto top spot and almost guarantee our top 2 finish.

Hasegawa made 3 changes to the starting eleven as the unsurprising changes of Omori and Okazaki dropping to the bench in place of Abe and Futagawa on the wings. I would have liked to have seen Omori given another chance but the depth we have is good enough to push him out of the line-up. The disappointing change was seeing Takaharu Nishino drop to the bench in place of Daiki Niwa. Nishino has been the strongest centre back we have used this season and why Konno was not dropped instead baffles me. National team member = invincible? I was hoping that Niwa would have a good game, however. On the bench, the slightly injured Myojin and Paulinho made way for Kenta Hoshihara and Shota Kawanishi. Oh Jae-Suk is injured so Hoshihara came in as the back-up side defender.

HollyHock kept their formation as their standard 3-4-2-1. With Yuto Suzuki and Tsukasa Ozawa injured, Mito were forced into two changes which saw Tomita come into the back three, allowing Ishigami to move into midfield as a wing-back. The other change was to bring in Yamamura as one of the support strikers to Takayuki Suzuki up front.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Endo, Abe, Futagawa, Rocha, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Nishino, Omori, Okazaki, Hirai, Kawanishi.
Mito HollyHock XI – Honma, Hosokawa, Tomita, Shinzato, Ishigami, Nishioka, Funatani, Wako, Hashimoto, Yamamura, Suzuki.
Mito HollyHock Subs – Kasahara, Omoto, Kigure, Shimada, Uchida, Namba, Mishima.

1st Half:
We tested the opposition first in the 5th minute with Fujiharu being allowed to cross towards the centre of the box, around 15 yards out, to Usami, but his header went straight at Honma. Abe then did the same thing just 6 minutes later, with Fujiharu again being the provider from the left. Although the first 10 minutes or so were comfortable, we did allow Mito a good chance in the 15th minute as Suzuki caused havoc on the left, came into the middle and crossed a ball over the top to Yamamura, who squared to a pass to Wako but his shot was saved low by Fujigaya, and very well indeed.

Mito HollyHock

However, we soon lost Akira Kaji to a foot injury and he had to be replaced by Kenta Hoshihara in the 31st minute. I have come to understand that Kaji’s injury is not a serious one and he should be okay. To be honest, the next 20 minutes after the goal were pretty quiet and it was only when Hoshihara crossed neatly for Futagawa to kick the air after completely missing the ball did the game wake up. Mito spurned two good chances either side of added time as a cross from Suzuki from the right threatened the goal but Konno put off Funatani which allowed Fujigaya to pick up the ball. Konno has not been doing that for a while, so I was glad to see it. The second Mito chance fell to Yamamura who slashed a shot low and right at Fujigaya from 10 yards following a free kick from Hashimoto that evaded everyone at the near post. Poor defending but we got out of jail.

Only 5 minutes later, Mito were made to pay for that miss as Usami headed home from an Endo corner, which was won by Fujiharu and Abe combining down the left. Endo sent the corner towards the near post with Rocha being the target but the ball beat him and his marker, Usami’s marker but not Usami who headed in from 2 yards. Honma did not control his area but the set-piece was superb. What a beautiful assist from Endo. 20 minutes gone, and we were 1-0 up.

The first half ended with us in the lead and an impressive start wavered after the goal and we allowed Mito a step back into the match. The game was not full of action but you felt that if we stepped up the pace a bit more, we would win at a canter.

2nd Half:
So we came out in the second half and made it 2-0 a little over 3 minute after the interval. After a bit of swift passing in the midfield, Uchida decisively found Abe in acres of space. He turned an attacked his marker who stood off him, allowing the lad to dummy onto his left foot after advancing to 20 yards before letting a beautiful shot curl into the bottom corner, giving the unsighted Honma no chance. An excellent individual goal after good midfield play, and surely it was now game over.

Uchida then tried to score himself but his touch let him down when he was through on goal but with Nishioka going off for Mito’s own Uchida and the ineffective and quiet Rocha going off for Kawanishi before the hour mark, we seemed to get back into the groove after a 15 minute period of nothingness.

Celebrations!Usami and Kawanishi both missed chances by firing past their near posts within 2 minutes of each other before the latter netted his second goal of the season in the 67th minute. The swift counter attack started with Abe winning the ball back just outside his own box with Endo playing a one-two with Futagawa after Kawanishi used his strength to keep the ball. Endo was freed down the right and sent a wonderful cross-field ball to Usami whose control was exceptional. He took it down, passed to Fujiharu on his outside who drilled a low cross to the back post for Kawanishi to slide home from 2 yards. Stunning goal, excellent attack and overall great desire and work ethic by the whole team.

Not much happened for the next 12 minutes until Usami scored again to make it 4-0. Endo with another excellent pass from midfield, this time to set Fujiharu away behind the Mito defence and he picked out Abe but his shot was blocked from 8 yards and looped into the air but Honma flapped at the ball, allowing Usami to pounce on it and poke it past the hopeless, hapless keeper. Terrible goalkeeping but excellent passing again by us.

Then the HollyHock defence decided to go to sleep and gift us our 5th goal in the 83rd minute, this time Futagawa finding the net. We pressed their defence high and forced them into a mistake, with Usami picking up the ball, passing to Endo who turned to his left to find Futagawa unmarked and the number 10 curled it into the far post from 18 yards with a clinical finish.

That was the game. Mito did not threaten at all in the second half and were extremely sloppy at the back. We were clinical with our finishing and controlled the game for its entirety. After losing our last league home match, it was a good way to bounce back, especially with the clean sheet, and Abe, Futagawa and Kawanishi all netted on the same night once more (previously in Gifu). Happy days.

Man of the Match:
Yasuhito EndoThere was only one man who could win this prestigious award and that man is Yasuhito Endo. Mito could not live with him in the midfield and they ultimately lost out from then on. Yatto was clinical when he needed to be, getting two assists as well as playing an important role in two of the other goals. He was simply untouchable and Mito had no clue as how to stop him. Even after having such a busy period of games, he has kept his level consistent and has shown that he is a good captain. We needed him to drag us forward after the defeat, and he did that extremely well. A 10/10 performance.

Where it leaves both teams:
We stay top of the pile and have now reached 70 points. We continue to keep the gap to Vissel Kobe to 2 points after they triumphed over V-Varen Nagasaki on the road with a 2-0 win which allowed Tokushima Vortis to slide into 3rd place despite drawing 2-2 against Montedio Yamagata after conceding a 90th minute equaliser. This makes the gap to Vortis 14 points for us which all but guarantees our return to J1. The other top 6 teams JEF and Kyoto battled it out in Chiba and it was the visitors Kyoto who took all 3 points in a 2-1 win which means that they sit in 6th with a 5 point gap to Matsumoto Yamaga, our next opponents.

As for Mito, their play-off hopes are all but gone as they now sit in 12th place and 10 points off Sanga and will be looking to finish as high as possible but with 9 games to play and 44 points on the board, it may just be a season of what could have been. With only Fagiano Okayama above them winning (except for the mentioned teams), they still have a chance to make 7th. A bad weekend in a sense but they still have a chance to improve their league standing.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 5-0 Mito HollyHock

Photos taken from f.image.geki.jp and Gamba Osaka’s Official Website. No copyright infringement intended. Originals here and here.

Match Preview – 15/09/2013 – J2: Section 33 – Gamba Osaka v Mito HollyHock

Gamba Osaka PredictionAfter a two week break from league action which was filled in with a 5-0 win over FC Imabari in the Emperor’s Cup last Sunday, we return to our championship chase as we take on mid-table Mito HollyHock at Banpaku with a kick-off time of 18:00 local time. We will be looking to complete the double over the Ibaraki Prefecture side.

We come into this match having lost our last league game 2-1 to V-Varen Nagasaki. This defeat meant that we lost our unbeaten home record which started on the 25th July 2012 after a 3-1 defeat to Kashiwa Reysol in the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup. The last league defeat at home was on the 14th July 2012 after a 90th minute winner by Manabu Saito was the difference between us and Yokohama F.Marinos. It was good whilst it lasted but the defensive performance was terrible and we deserved to lose.

Skipping Mito’s Emperor’s Cup win over Ehime FC on penalties after a 1-1 draw last weekend, we can see they have lost their last 2 matches to play-off rivals Consadole Sapporo 3-1 and Montedio Yamagata 2-1. Those two defeats, added to a 0-0 draw with Avispa Fukuoka, have seriously dented the team’s hopes of reaching the play-offs as they now sit 7 points behind Kyoto Sanga in 6th place and find themselves in 12th place.

Mito HollyHock PredictionThe first meeting between us and Mito this season came on the 15th June when we came away from Ibaraki Prefecture with all 3 points thanks to the final goal by Leandro for Gamba and the first ever goal in Kenya Okazaki’s professional career which allowed us to take a rather comfortable 2-0 win against the 10 men as Takayuki Suzuki was sent-off for violent conduct against Niwa just before full time.

If we look at our potential team selection, then I do not think much will change from the defeat to V-Varen Nagasaki if truth be told. The only change I can really see happening is Kenya Okazaki dropping to the bench in place of either Takahiro Futagawa or Paulinho. Given that the former was excellent in the Emperor’s Cup match and did a fine job against Nagasaki when coming off the bench, I would dare say he will get the nod over Paulinho. Kotaro Omori has slowed down recently but I would rather see him given more chances to impress than not. Akira Kaji and Yasuyuki Konno have been the weak links in defence recently and I hope for an improvement by the two of them, especially the latter who, along with Yasuhito Endo, comes back from national duty. Shu Kurata will play in the training match on Monday and should be back next month. Excellent.

Akira KajiMito will supposedly be without defender Kim and midfielders Yuto Suzuki and long-term injured Hiroki Kato as well as goalkeeper Nao Iwadate. Their last 6 away games have seen them win 3 and lose 3 as well as keeping 2 clean sheets. Their away form is up and down but you would expect them to come with their standard 3-4-3 formation with 2 defensive midfielders and two supporting strikers. They have practically their first choice team available and their predicted eleven is to the side. Whether they come and have a go or wait for the counter attack, only time will tell, but they do not look like a team who will be patient. They just lack that extra quality that could get them into the top 6.

My man to watch this weekend is Akira Kaji. He has had a difficult time recently in defence with mistakes against JEF United, Tokyo Verdy, Yokohama FC and V-Varen Nagasaki. We all loved it when he was back in the starting eleven last season as we looked much more assured and I think he needs to get back to that level again. He has been targeted by other teams and has allowed the opposition to get at him a lot more than Fujiharu does, but I know he can make amends for that and return to that consistent level. I hope this weekend can be the start of that recovery.

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

Match Report – 08/09/2013 – Emperor’s Cup: Round 2 – Gamba Osaka 5-0 FC Imabari

We strolled into the third round of the Emperor’s Cup following an easy victory over the Ehime prefecture representatives FC Imabari with a 5-0 win which delighted the majority of the 2,489 people at Banpaku.

We did not make as many changes to the starting eleven as I had expected as there were only 5 changes to the team that had lost to V-Varen Nagasaki last weekend. In defence, Niwa replaced Konno as he is on national team duty, as did Myojin for Endo. We swapped the wingers, Omori and Okazaki, for Abe and Futagawa whilst Rocha was given a rest for Shoki Hirai. The bench saw Hoshihara, Takei and Kawanishi of Konno, Endo and Paulinho from the previous squad. The smaller amount of changes than expected probably meant that Kenta Hasegawa wanted to keep his main players fresh whilst getting them to work on what went wrong last weekend.

The visitors came with the same starting eleven that had beaten Kumamoto Gakuen University 9-1 in the previous round, and they came with the same 4-2-3-1 formation with Okamoto as the lone striker. They looked to contain and counter whenever they could, but could they last the 90 minutes or even more if needed?

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Nishino, Niwa, Fujiharu, Myojin, Uchida, Abe, Futagawa, Hirai, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Omori, Takei, Okazaki, Rocha, Kawanishi.
FC Imabari XI – Yamazaki, Inada, Saito, Uemura, Nishida, Ogasawara, Yoshinami, Heike, Takada, Matsuhira, Okamoto.
FC Imabari Subs – Tsuruzawa, Nakajima, Miyamoto, Nishida, Tateishi, Yano, Kashiwagi.

1st Half:
Gamba OsakaAfter the match finally kicked-off (it started late due to a problem with the net on Fujigaya’s goal), the first feelings were of worry as Hiroki Fujiharu went down on the left after a rather innocuous challenge (if there was one) and after writhing in pain, he finally got up and continued as he normal does. He was definitely our best player in the first half and was used as the biggest threat, marauding down the left at will. Yet the first chance came from Futagawa, who chipped a lovely ball over the top of the defence for Hirai, but on the stretch he put it over on volley 8 yards; the first real chance.

The next good chance came as Usami fed Fujiharu in-behind the defence but his low cut-back evaded everyone in the box. In the 17th minute, Inada for Imabari put his team’s first chance well past the post and bar with a shot from the edge of the area following a free-kick. Nishino responded with a stunning drive from all of 45 yards, centrally, which forced Yamazaki in goal to parry the shot away from the top corner of the goal for a corner, which led to Niwa getting over the ball and heading over from 10 yards as he was left unmarked. Matsuhira fired high and slightly wide for the visitors in the 25th minute as he was left to turn and fire freely following a loose ball.

Then 2 attempts on goal were cleared off the line for us. The most contentious one was Fujiharu’s header at the back post from an Usami cross, with the keeper looking like he clawed it back out, whilst Hirai beat Yamazaki but not his defender on the line just a minute later. On the 30 minute mark, Hirai gave up a great chance to score as he slid a shot wide of the far post and this was the best chance until Hirai finally broke down the resistant defence in the 43rd minute. It all started with Abe heading onto the crossbar from 18 yards from a Futagawa cross, with the rebound being headed across goal by Myojin to Hirai who turned the ball in from 4 yards in acres of space. The resilient defence broken down, the deadlock broken and half time came with us expectedly in the lead and looking like we had no trouble at all – the only problem was that it was just 1-0.

2nd Half:
The second half started with Kaji tangling with Okamoto as the last man. There was neither a complaint from Okamoto, nor did the referee look moved by the incident. Abe was subbed for Okazaki in the 52nd minute as he continues on the road to full fitness whilst we were creating chances but the final ball was letting us down a bit. Niwa was then unfortunately booked in the 57th minute as he pulled his knee/leg out of an aerial challenge, always looking at the ball, but the referee’s lack of game knowledge led to the bad decision. The first change for Imabari came with Matsuhira coming off for Nakajima but it was our sub, Okazaki, that went close after drilling a low shot from 20 yards wide of the far post.

Enter the Magnificent Rocha! He came on for Hirai and scored just 2 minutes later as Usami toyed with his marker on the left but crossing at the by-line and picking out the Brazilian, unmarked, at the back post, and he headed in at his near post as Yamazaki jumped instead of diving in the correction direction. Just a minute later, Rocha made it 3-0 as he again combined excellently with Usami, this time down the right and through the middle with a couple of one-twos, resulting in Usami turning the ball back to the Brazilian to fire first time from an acute angle, around 7 yards out, and his shot seemed to take a tiny deflection that put in past Yamazaki in goal. Game over, finally, with Rocha adding the pace and desire that Hirai did not show. 2 goals in 3 minutes, 67 minutes gone in the game.

Kumamoto Gakuen University v FC Imabari

Imabari took off Nishida for Kashiwagi whilst Yoshinami was shown a yellow card in the 72nd minute for a dangerous tackle 20 yards from goal, centrally, which allowed Usami to curve the ball around the wall but also inches past the post. Myojin made way for Omori before this set-piece in what was an assured performance by the veteran. Omori was also certain he had netted his first professional goal ever but was denied at point-blank range by Yamazaki after Rocha headed across goal to the youngster following a neat cross by Futagawa. He then wasted a superb opportunity to make it 4-0 as he got in down the right but fired right at the keeper when rolling in Rocha for his hat-trick seemed the better option and Fujiharu spurned the opportunity to make it 4 goals in 4 games as his rebound shot went wide of the far post. Omori will get there, I am sure of that!

Daiki Niwa showed them both how to do it in the 86th minute as Uchida teed the erratic centre back up with a cross at the second time of asking from the back post to the near post as the defender was again poorly marked and he headed into the roof of the net. Usami rounded-off the victory in the 89th minute as he finally scored as Futagawa picked up a pass from Uchida in the centre of Imabari’s half and did not even look when turning and picking a dinked pass to Usami, who controlled excellently and put it into the bottom corner of the far post in what was probably the most beautiful goal of the game.

There was still time for Nakajima to pick up a booking in the fifth minute of added time for the visitors moments before the final whistle. We dominated the game from start to finish and showed excellent skills and just a superior quality to that of Imabari who did not disgrace themselves one bit. The match took time to get into the groove but as Imabari tired, we took advantage of that and got the result that was expected of us. The win means that we go into the third round and have a tie with Omiya Ardija, currently in 6th place in J1 following a superb start and recently, a wobbly time – a mixed bag of a season but this tie should be a great match.

Man of the Match:
There were a handful of good players today and they were Nishino, Myojin, Uchida, Futagawa and Rocha. Fujiharu was also excellent in the first half in particular and was our biggest threat in the game. But I do not think you can look past Usami as the man of the match for this game. He was fairly quiet in the first half but as soon as Rocha came on, you would really see their combination work was excellent in comparison to the Usami-Hirai combination. Takashi got 2 assists and a lovely goal which was the difference between us winning 1-0 or 2-0 rather than getting the final 5-0 result. Although I do think that he does need to be visible in a match for more than 45 minutes next time out, he was very good today. On a day where just the result mattered, he put in a good shift, like everyone else, but added that little bit extra towards the end that made a bit more of a difference. A good shift by everyone, nonetheless!

Match Preview – 08/09/2013 – Emperor’s Cup: Round 2 – Gamba Osaka v FC Imabari

FC ImabariWe get a break from the league action this weekend as our focus turns to the Emperor’s Cup as we start on our road to win the cup and go one better than last year. Our revenge starts at Banpaku at 15:00 local time as we welcome along Shikoku League leaders FC Imabari, as well as their rather famous mascot Bari-san.

Kumamoto Gakuen University v FC ImabariThe visitors made it into the second round following a comprehensive 9-1 win over Kumamoto Gakuen University last weekend. Their opponents were down to 10 men from the 16th minute onwards with Imabari leading 1-0 at the time thanks to a goal from midfielder Takada. They made it 3-0 with goals in the 17th and 21st minutes respectively thanks to midfielders Matsuhira and Ogasawara, whilst Kumamoto pulled a goal back in the 40th minute through Furuya. Imabari regained the 3 goal lead just 4 minutes later however through striker Okamoto. The second half was completely controlled by Imabari as an own goal, a header from defender Saito and a goal from substitute Nakajima made it 7-1 by the 74th minute. The game ended with Ogasawara and Nakajima netting their braces to complete the rout and send the university students packing. You can see the starting eleven for FC Imabari from that match to your side.

This is Gamba’s first match of the tournament as they automatically qualify to the second round as they play in the J.League. The team selection for this match should see all the guys who have not been getting match time or a limited amount of it to get a run out and try to impress Kenta Hasegawa. I am not sure if Oh Jae-Suk is injured or not having been dropped from the bench last weekend and not being at training, whilst this game is too soon for Keisuke Iwashita and Shu Kurata. The news for Akihiro Sato gets worse as I have been told he has suffered a setback this week from his 11 month layoff and looks like to be out for even more time. This is a great time to give players returning from recent injuries 45 minutes or so whilst keeping everyone fresh. My predicted team is to the side, but Paulinho could so easily come in for either of the wingers or one of the strikers.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

I do not think we should expect a shock in this match, although FC Imabari did beat eventual J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the same stage last season, edging their match 2-1. They were beaten in the next round by FC Machida Zelvia 5-2, who went on to lose to us 3-2 just a round later. This run for Imabari was their best to date, having featured in this tournament for the last 4 years.

Gamba made it all the way to the final last year despite being relegated from J1 just weeks before hand. We started with a 3-0 over Kansai University, then a 1-0 win over Mito HollyHock and a 3-2 win over Machida Zelvia. In the quarter finals, we edged the Osaka derby 2-1 against Cerezo and we followed that up with a 1-0 win over Kashima Antlers in the semi-finals which saw us head to Kokuritsu on New Years’ Day to face Kashiwa Reysol. But it was not to be as some slack marking by Daiki Niwa from a corner allowed the team in yellow to triumph 1-0 that day with a Kudo header. We will be looking to go that one step further this year.

The winner of this match will go on to face the winner of the tie between Omiya Arija of J1 or Fagiano Okayama NEXT. The adventure starts here boys, so let’s do it!

Photo taken from FC Imabari’s Official Website. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.