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.
After 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.
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.
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!