Match Report – 27/10/2013 – J2: Section 38 – Tokushima Vortis 1-5 Gamba Osaka

What an amazing game of football we had the pleasure of watching at the early hours of the morning. The game kicked-off at 13:00 local-time which was a 2am start for a 4am kick-off for me but we destroyed Vortis. After 5 minutes, I knew this would happen and probably none of the 8,997 believed it until it happened.

The hosts made a staggering five changes to the team that started against and lost to Yokohama FC the weekend before. Surprisingly, they changed their goalkeeper Matsui, a former pink-man, and replaced him with Tooru Hasegawa for just his sixth appearance of the season. With left-back Alex suspended, Vortis Nasukawa for the suspended man as well as Hanai and Suzuki into midfield for Miyazaki and Saito whilst up front, they dropped Kim to the bench in place of Brazilian Douglas.

For Gamba, Kenta Hasegawa kindly kept with the same starting eleven that comfortably beat Kataller Toyama 3-1 the weekend before. There were two changes on the bench and those were players coming back from injuries. Tomokazu Myojin made his first appearance in the team since getting an injury against FC Imabari at the start of September as he replaced Kenta Hoshihara. The other returnee was a much more significant one as Akihiro Sato finally made his comeback after just over a year out with a cruciate ligament injury suffered in the 3-2 win over Kawasaki Frontale. He replaced Shoki Hirai on the bench, and we all know that that is an improvement.

Tokushima Vortis XI – Hasegawa, Fujiwara, Fukumoto, Aoyama, Hamada, Hanai, Nasukawa, Suzuki, Osaki, Douglas, Tsuda.
Tokushima Vortis Subs – Matsui, Chiyotanda, Hashiuchi, Saito, Miyazaki, Kim, Takazaki.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Nishino, Fujiharu, Konno, Uchida, Omori, Kurata, Endo, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Futagawa, Abe, Myojin, Takei, Rocha, Sato.

1st Half:
The first five minutes told me we would win. We dominated possession, as is the natural swing of things, and without having a chance to speak of until we scored, we were comfortable as the rigid lines of the Tokushima defence and midfield did nothing to pressure us. This meant that we kept the opposition at bay during the first 15 minutes for the first time on the road since battering FC Gifu 8-2 back at the start of July.

Tokushima VortisNishino won the ball back for us in the midfield and passed immediately to Endo who burst forward. With it 4 on 3 in our favour, he passed out wide to Omori and the movement from Usami in the middle to shrug off his marker before darting to the near post was exceptional. That movement allowed him to clip the ball in at the near post and give us the lead in the 22nd minute. Credit to Nishino too for his anticipation to start the move off.

Nishino was at it again just 10 minutes later, but only after Niwa of all people saved us from a corner, hoofing the ball over the bar to prevent former Gamba man Fukumoto from getting a probable equaliser. Nishino tackled Tsuda again and this time passed to Omori in front of him, who quickly sent the ball to the right touchline to Usami. With only Endo in support, I knew that he was going to cut in and take a shot on goal, yet the Tokushima defence did not. He drove at Fukumoto who never got close enough to him, allowing him to enter the box and from an acute angle, 16 yards from goal, he drilled across Hasegawa who could help it on its way into the far corner. Confidence epitomised, class upgraded.

There was only one decent chance for Vortis as Hamada hooked over the bar after Niwa got over him to pressure the quick shot that never troubled Fujigaya or his goal, whilst Kurata had two excellent chances that on another would have gone in. Firstly, Fujiharu destroyed the Vortis right by himself and squared to Kurata who curled the ball around his defender and almost into the far post had it not been for a fine save by Hasegawa. He then half-volleyed from an Endo knock-down but it was straight at Hasegawa who pushed the ball over for a corner.

The half time whilst was blown and Vortis had simply been blown away by our class and their lack of pressure on the ball. They simply let us play our game without trying to disrupt it or force us into any mistakes. We made few chances but took them well when we got them, something we have not been doing recently. It was an excellent first half.

2nd Half:
Yet the second half got off to a bad start as Douglas reduced the deficit just 2 minutes into the half. Vortis had come out with the idea of actually pressing us rather than sitting back and it worked. Suzuki picked the ball up on the left and Kaji allowed him too much space to send in a low cross which was excellently dummied by Tsuda ahead of Nishino; this allowed Douglas to get ahead of Niwa to the ball and poke it just to the side of Fujigaya to make it 2-1. Unfortunately, it was game back on.

Yet to be honest, the next 20 minutes had very little action at either end. Hanai was substituted for the hosts whilst Omori joined Douglas in the book after chasing the ball down after losing it and not fouling his man (the referee thought otherwise). The game changer came in the form of Takahiro Futagawa, who came on for Shu Kurata in the 68th minute. And this is where the game when mental.

Gamba Osaka Prediction

Usami turned Aoyama and was away, but the defender took liberties to take him down and earn a yellow card. Shortly after the free-kick was sent back to Futagawa, we made it 3-1. He got to the by-line and with seemingly no options, he passed into the box and from nowhere, Fujiharu burst into the area. His determination kept the ball stuck to his feet and he drilled a low cross into the 6 yard box where Daiki Niwa poked home from a couple of yards to send him berserk and me wild. Fujiharu, absolutely wonderful play. He made that goal – what a little beauty. 73 minutes gone, and surely game over.

It sure seemed that way as Usami was thwarted by Hasegawa in getting his hat-trick whilst Kotaro Omori’s excellent work was rewarded with a rest which allowed Akihiro Sato to make his return against his former team. But alas, Yasuyuki Konno continued his awful form by giving away stupid penalty in the 82nd minute, fouling Suzuki just inside the area with the midfielder heading away from goal. Tsuda stepped up having missed a penalty in his last match by hitting the bar and he did not look confident, which resulted in him firing against the bar again and although the ball hit Fujigaya, it went away to safety. Lucky Konno, you absolute idiot.

After our hearts had stopped at that moment and the relief was evident, no-one had time to catch their breath as Usami nailed his hat-trick just 40 seconds after Tsuda missed that penalty. What a marvellous goal it was too, a stunning individual effort. He took the ball from Kaji and just went at the defence from the edge of the area, beating Nasukawa for pace, turning back onto his right foot and firing into the bottom corner of the far post before the defender even had a chance to block him. His first hat-trick and an absolutely amazing moment.

He was not content with 3 goals though as he made it 5-1 in the 89th minute. And this was another completely different goal to all those before it. After some sharp, one touch passing in midfield, Futagawa flicked the ball to Usami who just let fly from at least 25 yards and he of course found the bottom corner with ease. What a genius, what an absolute genius.

Rocha came on for said genius for just a few minutes but we bagged a highly deserved and epic win. This match report does not do justice to how good the last 20 minutes were for a game of football. We dominated from start to end but allowed Vortis some glimmers of hope that need to be address. However, credit to both teams for making the game a memorable one; certainly one of the most entertaining games I have seen all season and one that puts us maybe a win away from promotion. Football, you have to love it.

Man of the Match:
Takashi UsamiThere can only be one winner of this award and that man is of course Takashi Usami. What a performance! It does not get better than that. He was full of confidence from the first chance he got which was his first goal. After that, he repeated his goal against Toyama and his magical footwork for his third goal won us the game. His fourth goal was the result of his confidence and I was and still am speechless. There is no word to describe how good Usami was. I said in my match preview that he has had many chances but wasted them recently but he would take down Tokushima and I was right. What a marvellous individual effort aided by some exceptional team-mates. Omori was electric in the first half, Fujiharu supplied Niwa excellently and Futagawa’s introduction was superb. Fantastic.

Where it leaves both teams:
The victory leaves us potentially one match away from promotion. Vissel still lead the way after a hard-earned 2-1 away win to Gainare Tottori but they play Kyoto Sanga next in what could be a pivotal weekend to determine where the championship goes and when the two of us are confirmed as promoted. Kyoto won 2-0 at home to consolidate their 3rd place whilst probably ending Consadole’s play-off hopes. JEF United also won to stay 4th, this time a 2-1 away win over Yokohama FC. Tokushima slipped down to 6th on goal-difference after this battering, even though V-Varen Nagasaki lost 1-0 away to Roasso Kumamoto. The final two play-off places are up for grabs with Vortis in bad form and Nagasaki also up-and-down whilst Matsumoto Yamaga FC and Tochigi SC are both in excellent condition for the run-in and have the momentum. So interesting right now.

Stats
Tokushima Vortis 1-5 Gamba Osaka

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

Match Preview – 27/10/2013 – J2: Section 38 – Tokushima Vortis v Gamba Osaka

Tokushima Vortis PredictionAfter finally getting a win last weekend for the first time in over a month, we head on over to Shikoku to take on play-off contenders Tokushima Vortis at the Pocari Sweat Stadium. The game kicks-off at 13:00 local-time and with plenty at stake for both teams it should be a good match for the neutral.

The hosts come into this match on the back of a 1-0 home defeat to Yokohama FC thanks to a 51st minute goal Tomoya Uchida. Vortis has the chance to level the score from the penalty spot with 7 minutes remaining but team ace Tomohiro Tsuda could only fire against the bar to ensure the visitors escaped with all 3 points. That defeat knocked Vortis down to 5th place but 6 points ahead of Consadole Sapporo in 7th, keeping them firmly in their play-off position.

Gamba travel to Shikoku having beaten Kataller Toyama 3-1 at home to claim our first win in over a month thanks to goals from Shu Kurata, Takaharu Nishino and Takashi Usami. All of the scorers are graduates from our youth team which is always great to see. The win kept us in 2nd place and still a point behind Vissel Kobe.

The match between the two sides earlier this season was my first ever in-person Gamba Osaka match as we comfortably beat Vortis 2-0 with a quick-fire double from Paulinho and Hirai giving us the first-half advantage the lasted the entire game. That was the game the Shu Kurata got himself injured in and aren’t we glad he made his return just 3 weeks ago.

Looking at the current form of Vortis shows us that they have won just 1 of their last 5 games, that being a scrappy 2-1 win against bottom-of-the-table Gainare Tottori. They have failed to score in their last 2 matches against modest opposition and have crashed at a bad time, considering they went on a 12 match unbeaten run that included 9 wins until they lost 3-2 to Vissel Kobe. Aside from V-Varen Nagasaki, they have been the surprise package in the league this season.

Gamba Osaka PredictionHowever, they have not beaten any of the other top 6 sides at the Pocari Sweat Stadium all season, picking up only a point thanks to a 1-1 draw against Kyoto Sanga. They have also only kept 3 clean sheets at home but have failed to find the net just 4 times when hosting. They have only conceded more than 2 goals in a match once this season, so they are sharp going forward whilst leaky to a point at the back.

They will be without suspended left-back Alex as he picked up his 4th booking of the season against Yokohama FC and is forecast to be replaced by Nasukawa in the only change from the eleven that started the last match. The hosts will also be without defender Yuya Hashiuchi after he picked up an injury against Matsumoto Yamaga FC 9 games ago. Midfielder Keisuke Ota has also not appeared since that match as has Ikki Sasaki, having managed just 14 minutes of game time all season whilst Yu Eto has not played since the 3-0 home defeat to Roasso Kumamoto back at the start of May. With only one change forecast, you can see the predicted eleven for the home side to your side.

Kenta Hasegawa would be crazy to change the starting eleven that beat Kataller Toyama with relative ease last weekend. With Myojin and Sato getting even closer to their belated returns (especially for the latter), the only competition I could possible envision would be on the bench. Takashi Usami and Yasuhito Endo both had small injuries during the week but Hasegawa has vowed to keep Endo in the forward position so that makes it sound as though he is all good and well, as is Usami. One thing that I could like to see change is cutting out of silly errors that have led to easy goals in recent times (right, Konno?). I am just hoping that the team can push on and make Vissel Kobe earn the championship if they are indeed going to win it. The sooner we wrap up promotion the better.

Takashi UsamiTakashi Usami will be my man to watch this weekend. Recently, he has had a whole heap of chances to add to his impressive goal tally since come back from Germany but he only managed 2 goal in the least 4 games when he really could have had a hat-trick in both. However, I am very happy that he is becoming the lead player in our attack and seemed to be relishing having a fluid line consisting of Omori, Endo and Kurata behind him last weekend. He has scored some excellent goals since his return but I would like him to take his chances just that more often. 11 goals in 13 league matches is not bad at all but he should be scoring more. He will be a very important player this weekend, I am sure, so I expect him to grab Vortis by the throat and slice it.

It is going to be a tough match, no questions about that. Our away record recently has been pretty poor and we have enjoyed conceding within the first 15 minutes of our away games since playing JEF back in July. Indeed, we have not kept a clean sheet on the road since beating Mito 2-0 back in June and I would like us to address that this weekend in particular. Vortis have a play-off place to fight for and I would expect them to give it a good go this weekend. We should have an open game on our hands but hopefully our defence makes no mistakes whilst the attack is clinical. What a great-looking game we have ahead of us.

Photo taken from amd.c.yimg.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Report – 20/10/2013 – J2: Section 37 – Gamba Osaka 3-1 Kataller Toyama

We earned our first victory for over a month as a win inspired by our youth team graduates helped us along the way to a very much needed and well deserved victory over a Kataller Toyama side that did not show many qualities in either attack or defence. The match was watched by 9,286 people as we kept the pressure on at the top whilst securing our play-off place.

Ironically, there was just one change to the starting eleven that was defeat by Tochigi SC two weeks ago. Takaharu Nishino came in for Shota Kawanishi but this meant a hell of a lot of positional changes. Nishino came in at centre back which pushed Konno into his better central midfield position. This meant that Endo move forward and was the central support player to Usami, who became the main striker. Whilst Endo was the main support player, we formed up as a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-4-2.

As for Toyama, they made a total of 4 changes to the team that lost to Roasso Kumamoto in round 36. Out went defenders Yang and Uchida as well as midfielders Onishi and Kuniyoshi for Ikehata, Asuke, Funtasu and Seo. Their formation was also a very interesting 3-3-3-1 which meant that they were aiming to stay compact, although their formation was often a 3-5-2 or a 4-5-1 due to the amount of defending they had to do.

Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Nishino, Fujiharu, Konno, Uchida, Omori, Kurata, Endo, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Hoshihara, Futagawa, Abe, Takei, Rocha, Hirai.
Kataller Toyama XI – Morita, Ikehata, Mikuriya, Asuke, Kim, Funatsu, Kimura, Kimoto, Shirasaki, Seo, Kokeguchi.
Kataller Toyama Subs – Iida, Hiraide, Yoshikawa, Yamamoto, Muramatsu, Mine, Nishikawa.

1st Half:
Gamba OsakaWe thought we had taken the lead after just 5 minutes as Takaharu Nishino headed across goal from an Endo free kick with the ball being parried out for Niwa to slam home from a couple of yards, only for the flag to be raised for offside, and rightly so. And whilst we were holding onto the ball well and have a couple of crosses with Omori being involved in both, we could not quite make the breakthrough. When we did get in-behind the defence thanks to Fujiharu, crossing for Usami but the ball fell to Endo to net from a few yards, the flag once again when up for offside and this time wrongly in my opinion as the replay showed he was level.

It took either team until the 29th minute to show a threat and it was Shu Kurata who found the back of the net on his return home after injury after Usami tried to flick back to Omori after he burst into the box but his marker flicked it away yet only into the path of Kurata who took a touch before firing home past Morita to give us a deserved lead after a good 30 minutes of football by us. I, being a massive fan of Kurata, was rather delighted to see him score.

Yet Konno and Endo had other ideas and allowed Toyama to nick an unexpected equaliser through Shirasaki. After Uchida played a simple pass forward to Endo, he stupidly sent a looped pass backwards to Konno after he was put under pressure. Konno was caught out by the fact that the pass was going upwards and backwards and let it bounce behind him, ridiculously believing that Nishino would be waiting with open arms for the pass that he should have dealt with. This confusion allowed Shirasaki to steal the ball and, despite Nishino’s best efforts, he smashed home from 6 yards at the near post as Fujigaya should also have done better. Another error, another goal conceded.

Nishino was determined to right the wrong of his colleagues before half time and did so beautifully. After reading the play well and intercepting a Toyama pass just our inside the attacking half, he passed to Kurata who send the ball out wide to Omori. He waited for Kaji to overlap before passing it to him to fire a first-time cross into the middle and Nishino rose the highest to head the ball into the back of the net from 5 yards. Just excellent by the youngster to make the goal and finish it off at ease but even better was we went in at half time 2-1 up with that 44th minute bullet.

Kataller Toyama

2nd Half:
The second half started with Toyama kicking-off and almost scoring within 30 seconds as Kokeguchi got free but Fujigaya sent him wide and forced him to shoot straight at him. Whilst Toyama had a couple of minutes where they were in control, they were never really threatening after that chance and Usami should have made Kokeguchi pay for that miss as he headed over from 6 yards following a cross from the right by Endo – he really should have scored. 6 minutes later and just after the hour mark he spurned a chance once more as Kurata danced into the penalty area, drawing the defenders to him, which allowed him to slip the ball to Usami but he could only curl his shot within reach of the diving Morita.

It was third time lucky for the 21 year old as he put the game to bed in the 65th minute. Niwa played a simple pass out of defence to Uchida who found himself in acres of space in the centre of midfield. Usami was already on his way before Uchida slid a pass down the side of the centre-back for Usami to run onto. He still had a lot to do as he turned towards goal but even from his acute angle, he still managed to fire home at the near post, although Morita should have done better.

Not much happened really in the next 15 minute as both sides made 2 changes each. For Kataller, Ikehata and Kokeguchi were withdrawn for Nishikawa and Yamamoto, whilst Kurata and Usami were given well-earned breaks for Futagawa and Hirai. Omori had 2 golden chances in 5 minutes to get his first ever goal, firstly cutting in onto his left foot and curling one to the side of Morita who just got a touch on it to force it wide, whilst the second chance was a free header which he inexplicably sent wide from a Kaji cross. Mine came on for Kimura for the visitors who had the final 3 chances of the game through Yamamoto, said Mine and Kim but Fujigaya was up to the challenges they presented.

So it was by no means a classic victory but a victory it was and a deserved one at that. We just needed to get back on track and did it quite comfortably in the end. We took all of our goals well and on another day, we would have had 5 or 6 but that can wait for our next match, right? Toyama deserved to get nothing out of the game and the silly goal we gave away was as good as they were going to get. Let’s keep going, Gamba! (Minus the mistakes, of course)!

Man of the Match:
Takaharu NishinoWhilst some people will say it was his fault for the goal, Takaharu Nishino definitely underlined why I love him so much and why he always deserves a spot in the team.  I completely disagree with those people who say Nishino was at fault for the goal but even if it was his fault (which it was not), he showed excellent character to step forward and get us back on track by starting and ending the move for the 2nd goal. His partnership with Niwa gives me more confidence in the defence as they seem to have a good understanding which is good to see. The pair of them limited to Toyama to less than half-chances and have been convincing in past games when they have started together. It was good to see Nishino make an effective return in the league.

Where it leaves both teams:
As Vissel Kobe absolute trounced play-off hopefuls Matsumoto Yamaga FC 7-0 at home, they stay top by their previous 1 point lead. We stay in 2nd on 74 points, 8 points ahead of Kyoto Sanga in 3rd after they did Toyama a favour by coming back from 2 goals down to beat 9-man Gunma 3-2. JEF United jumped back into 4th place after thumping Roasso Kumamoto 6-0 at home whilst Tokushima Vortis were their victims as they lost 1-0 to Yokohama FC – the losers there will be our next opponent. V-Varen Nagasaki beat 21st place FC Gifu 3-0 to make a 6 point gap to 7th place as they edge to securing their play-off spot. The other key fixture of note for Toyama was bottom-placed Gainare Tottori picking up a point and a 1-1 result against Avispa Fukuoka, the latter’s future in the league remains in doubt.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 3-1 Kataller Toyama

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

Match Preview – 20/10/2013 – J2: Section 37 – Gamba Osaka v Kataller Toyama

Gamba Osaka PredictionAfter our exit from the Emperor’s Cup last weekend at the hands of Omiya Ardija on penalties, we now only have the league campaign to focus on and will be looking to find our first victory in over a month as we entertain 19th placed Kataller Toyama at Banpaku, kick-off time 16:00. With 6 games to go, the results for both teams here on out have more and more significance with neither wanting to drop any valuable points during their quest for revival/survival.

Our league form as of recent has been shocking to say the least, picking up just 1 victory in 6 attempts, that being a 5-0 demolition of Mito HollyHock more than a month ago. We have taken just 5 points in those 6 games, losing 3 of them which is 1 more than we had achieved in the previous 31 games. To say we are in a rut is an understatement and the defeat the Emperor’s Cup compounded it last weekend. Promotion should have been attained by now and we cannot attain the 90 point target that was set at the start of the season.

Toyama sat out last weekend as they had already been eliminated from the Emperor’s Cup, also via a penalty shoot-out. That 2 week break gave them time to reflect on their 2-1 home defeat to Roasso Kumamoto, with goals from Takahashi and Osako putting the visitors ahead with Toyama only being able to pull one goal back through Kim. That defeat left them on 35 points, 7 ahead of bottom placed Gainare Tottori and 4 ahead of FC Gifu in 21st who have a game in-hand.

Kataller Toyama PredictionLooking our team will see Konno and Endo come back into the defence and midfield respectively, with Nishino and Takei most probably making way, although both probably merit a place over Niwa and Uchida to be honest. Looking forward, I want to see Futagawa come in on the left for Hirai which will allow Kurata to join Usami up front, which would be a very exciting partnership to see if it was to happen. Rocha is not great against teams that like to defend and squeeze the space whilst Hirai has been poor. Kawanishi has been recent but lacks a cutting edge in front of goal. As for players returning from injury, Tomokazu Myojin and Akihiro Sato are close to making it back to the team and should be available within the next week or so. My desired team is to the side.

As for Toyama, they are without the suspended midfield duo of Yohei Onishi and Takahiro Kuniyoshi as both picked up their 4th yellow cards of the season against Roasso Kumamoto last time out. This adds to their midfield worries as Daisuke Asahi, Yukihiro Yamase, Ryo Hiraide and Yosuke Yada are all supposed to be out of this one, as are defenders Naoto Yoshii and Tetsuya Funatsu. Their most valuable aspect that could see them take a valuable point back to Toyama has been crippled by bans and injuries so an even tighter, solider and stronger defensive performance will be needed if they are to must anything from this game. Their predicted starting eleven is also to the side.

Shu Kurata

There is only one man to watch this weekend and that man is Shu Kurata. I was there when he injured himself against Tokushima Vortis back at the end of June and since then his loss, along with the departure of Leandro, has derailed us slightly. Shu made his comeback against Tochigi SC 2 weeks ago and made a classic assist of his but he also spurned the biggest chance in the Emperor’s Cup against Omiya Ardija. He is lacking a bit of match fitness but has shown some aspects of his game that we have come to know and love. Despite missing around 15 matches this league campaign, he will more than likely be our player of the year and it is his determination, desire and cutting-edge that we want to see in these final 6 games to help us get back on course to win the title. Against a probable defensive unit, we will need some of his magic to unlock the door and find a way, but I feel that his first game back at Banpaku since that injury might just be a good one. I hope he can give us something to cheer about in the last 6 games, apart from being crowned champions, of course!

We have to win this game, no ifs, buts or maybes about it. With Vissel Kobe facing a tricky-looking home tie against Matsumoto Yamaga FC, we can definitely sense a return to the top of the table. We have to take the game to Toyama from the first minute until the last and destroy them to vent our anger and show everyone that we are not a beaten side but also to keep Kobe on their toes. With Toyama missing so many players, we have to use this game to get our confidence back. Let’s take them down, destroy their back line and get ourselves back on track! You can do it so come on, Gamba Osaka!

Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Website. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 13/10/2013 – Emperor’s Cup: Round 3 – Omiya Ardija v Gamba Osaka

Omiya Ardija v Fagiano Okayama NEXT

After a dreadful run in recent times, we get to travel to the Kumagaya Athletic Stadium to take on J1 side Omiya Ardija who are stuck in the biggest and complex season in J.League history at the moment so this battle between out-of-form sides should be interesting for the neutral. The game kicks-off at 13:00 local time.

Omiya made their way into the 3rd round of the competition by beating Fagiano Okayama NEXT 4-0 at the NACK5 Stadium on the 7th September thanks to a hat-trick from Cho Young-Cheol and a goal by Tomoki Imai. That victory also turned out to be Ardija’s last in all competitions, but we will get onto that later.

We made our way through the 2nd round in relative ease as we swept aside FC Imabari 5-0 at Banpaku, with goals from Hirai, Usami, Niwa and a 2 minute brace from Rocha after being introduced moments beforehand. Since then, we have won just 1 of 4 games having stuttered to 2nd place in the league and seemingly unable to keep clean sheets.

Even though Ardija are J1 opposition, their form is absolutely terrible. They have won 3 of their last 15 games in all competitions and have lost the rest, failing to score in 3 of their last 4 league matches whilst conceding a total of 12 goals. Their shocking form is in stark contrast to their early season form when they were clear at the top of the table and seemingly on route to an unlikely title or at least an ACL spot. With the sacking of manager Verdenik after a run of 5 defeats, the club seemingly panicked and replaced him with Tsutomu Ogura but with no effect. The club have since fallen down to 10th place in J1 and are on course for their regular 13th/14th place.

Gamba Osaka PredictionTheir last league game saw them lose to Urawa Reds 4-0 and they had two men sent off; Lucas Niell and Tomoki Imai. The former is on international duty with Australia so would have missed this game anyway. Their other players on international duty are Slovenian striking due Zlatan and Novakovic which leaves a massive gap in their forward line. Additionally, midfielders Takuya Aoki and Shin Kanazawa are injured which really does leave them short of first choice players. Therefore, I cannot really predict their line-up and will give you the team that started against Fagiano Okayama NEXT.

With Endo and Konno on national duty, we will be forced to make two changes. The good thing about that is Nishino will return to the heart of the defence and give us our leader back! As for replacing Endo, whether Myojin is fit or not, I do not know. So I think that if he is not fit, Okazaki will partner Uchida in central midfield. As for going forward, I think Futagawa should be fit for this match and I would like him to play on the left with Kurata in the middle, Omori on the right with Usami as our striker. It is plausible that Rocha will partner Usami up top and Kurata will shift to the left. As for goalkeepers, I want Kimura in goal as Fujigaya has been very poor recently and it is time to see if Kimura has got what it takes to replace him as he showed last season that he could until he got injured.

Most people expect Gamba to win this match and so do I but we have to be careful of our expectations simply because of our form. However, with Nishino presumably back in defence and Kurata slowly getting back up to speed, we should be safe as long as Usami can take his chances more often that he has been doing recently. It will be a good chance to give some players some minutes on the pitch but as everyone at Gamba is aiming for the ACL, there is a time and a place for a lot of tinkering. Whoever wins this match will go past the end of the league season and hope to reach glory at Kokuritsu.

Match Report – 06/10/2013 – J2: Section 36 – Tochigi SC 4-2 Gamba Osaka

Dear oh dear oh dear. Another sluggish performance was swiftly jumped upon by the opposition as resurgent Tochigi SC made us pay for missed chances and mistakes in defence as our sticky patch continued. 10,687 people turned up to see the hosts continue their impressive form under their new manager whilst we missed our chance to return to the top of the table.

The hosts made a few of changes to the starting eleven that drew against Matsumoto Yamaga the weekend before. Goalkeeper Enomoto was dropped to the bench in place of Suzuki and we all remember how kind he was when we beat Tochigi earlier in the season. In defence, Akai took the place of Kan who was suspended for this match. The final change came in midfield as regular Takagi was also out of the squad and was replaced by Onodera. This meant that Owada and Sugimoto filled the empty spaces on the bench. Tochigi played their standard 4-2-3-1 system.

As for Gamba, Shu Kurata returned to the team at long last after over 3 months out injured and slotted right back into the starting eleven, albeit from the left of midfield. It felt like we reverted back to our own 4-2-3-1 system as Kawanishi got his first start of the season ahead of Rocha. Abe was also dropped to the bench (which I was happy about) as Omori came in on the right of midfield, at last! This sent Okazaki to the bench as well and as Kurata came back, Hoshihara was dropped from the bench to make way for Shu.

Tochigi SC XI – Suzuki, Akai, Cha, Nishioka, Santos, Hirose, Paulinho, Onodera, Kondo, Cristiano, Sabia.
Tochigi SC Subs – Enomoto, Owada, Yamagata, Sugimoto, Yuzawa, Kikuoka, Kukino.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Konno, Fujiharu, Uchida, Endo, Omori, Usami, Kurata, Kawanishi.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Nishino, Abe, Takei, Okazaki, Rocha, Hirai.

1st Half:
Tochigi SCThe first 10 minutes were full of basically sparring between the two sides with Gamba, of course, holding onto possession for the majority of that time. But like in the last 6 away games, we conceded early on and it was Sabia who gave the hosts the lead in the 10th minute following a counter attack on the left side. The ball was switched to the right and passed to Cristiano whose tame shot was parried poorly by Fujigaya into the path of the other Brazilian who tapped in from a couple of yards. Daiki Niwa was also slacking off as he stood and watched Fujigaya parry the ball rather than being on his toes to get rid of any potential danger. Terrible by the pair of them…

The hosts should have been 2 goals to the good just six minutes later as Kondo put in an excellent cross from the wing that was put in the corridor of doubt between the defenders and goalkeeper that just evaded the outstretched foot of Sabia.

Going the other way, Tochigi set up with tight defensive lines that prevented us from getting close to their goal. Our passes were misplaced in the final third and this meant that Kaji ended up with the first yellow card of the game after he fouled Santos who was shepherding the ball out for a goal kick in the 26th minute. Kurata showed the first signs of an attacking threat by sliding a lovely ball down the side of the defence which Usami latched onto but his shot was pushed wide by Suzuki, who did well to hold onto a 30 yard drive from Omori moments later. Kawanishi then set-up Usami whose drive went straight at Suzuki in goal but it only felt like a matter of time before we would score.

So Usami went and made up for his misses but netting the equaliser. Shu Kurata drifted from the left to the centre of the pitch, took a couple of touches before sliding a lovely pass to Usami on the edge of the box who took a touch before firing into the far corner. Massive credit to Shota Kawanishi for making an excellent run across the box that created the space for Usami. An excellent goal which signalled the return of the highly needed Shu Kurata. Game on but we needed to take the next goal.

Before half time, Usami danced around the defence before squaring to Kawanishi but the defence held strong whilst Kawanishi had a decent chance to get a goal as Uchida crossed from the left but he could only head straight at Suzuki. Although we were pushing to take the lead, Tochigi held firm and we went into the break with our sights set high for the second half as we looked to be getting a hold of the game and I was sure we would continue to batter Tochigi in the second half.

2nd Half:
Yet the second half could not have started any worse. After Omori gave a free kick away on the Tochigi left, Santos took it quickly to Sabia who had peeled off the sleeping Niwa and he headed home from 8 yards, his header going right above Fujigaya who could not keep it out. Niwa was once again the culprit in defence and again underlines why he should not be a Gamba player. 46 minutes gone and Tochigi back in the lead with all our hard work undone early on again.

Gamba OsakaWe did react fairly well to going behind as Usami rattled the bar from 20 yards, centrally. Tochigi took off Onodera for Kikuoka a few minutes later whilst Usami won a free kick which was excellently sent in by Endo with no-one attacking the set-piece which resulted in Kukioka ending the counter attack by firing wide of goal. On the hour mark, Hirose clipped the top of the bar after being given acres of space to take aim. The hosts were playing on the counter attack better now and it was always going to be a massive danger.

Kenta Hasegawa then made two changes, bringing on Rocha and Abe for Kawanishi and Kurata. The two going off did a decent job especially Kurata as he made an assist on his return whilst Kawanishi did do well but needed a cutting edge. I was disappointed that Abe was on but he did net the equaliser in the 67th minute after Omori drove into the box on the left and passed the ball to Endo who tapped the ball back to the midfielder who fired into the far corner of the goal. It was excellent play by Omori there, taking on three Tochigi players by himself and being extremely positive, whilst Abe finished it well. Now you would think we would push on and get the win from this position.

Omori was on fire as he played in Usami just a moment later but the latter once again wasted another great opportunity by firing right at Suzuki when through on goal. Heading into the last 10 minutes and Konno was booked for a late foul whilst Tochigi took off Hirose and Kondo for Kukino and Yuzawa to freshen up the midfield. Yet we found ourselves 3-2 down in the 81st minute… Uchida’s poor cross-field ball was snuffed out and let Tochigi go on the counter attack down the right. Kukino crossed towards the penalty spot and Cristiano met the ball with his right foot ahead of Konno. The shot was hit into the ground and over the diving Fujigaya…

Yet we should have made it 3-3 just 2 minutes later as Usami waltzed into the penalty area and fed Omori and Rocha but both got in each other’s way and somehow managed to miss the target with Tochigi scrambling the ball off the line. Okazaki came on for the disappointing Uchida but Tochigi made it 4-2 in the 87th minute through substitute Kukino. Cristiano picked up the ball on the edge of the box and played a square pass to Kukino who easily dummied past Kaji to the left and he fired across goal and through Niwa’s legs, who had put in a half-hearted block, to put it into the far corner and make the game safe.

The result was dreadful, the attacking play decent but the defensive play simply terrible. The sooner we get Nishino back in defence the better! Although we should be automatically promoted, these last few games should be telling Kenta Hasegawa who we need to get rid of and where we need to strengthen. Not looking at anyone in particular, am I Niwa?

Man of the Match:
CristianoFor Gamba, Kotaro Omori was the stand-out player in an otherwise disappointing game as he was always positive and continued to attack his defender like a real winger (cough cough Abe and Okazaki). Without a doubt though, it was Cristiano who ran the show for the hosts. Not only did he score, but he also assisted 2 of the home side’s goals and was an instrumental part in breaking us down via the counter attack. He used the ball wisely and calmly which allowed his team to take apart our awful defence. He looked like a man full of confidence in his own abilities and was the reason why his team won the game emphatically.

Where it leaves both teams:
Despite this heavy defeat, we are lucky that we are still just 1 point behind Vissel Kobe as the leaders also lost on the road, this time by a 2-1 score line against JEF United Chiba. With our defeat, Kyoto Sanga closed the gap from 3rd to us to 9 points with their fifth straight win after taking down Gainare Tottori 1-0. Tokushima Vortis drew 0-0 away to Miyo HollyHock to stay in 4th on 60 points whilst JEF moved up to 5th after beating Vissel, now on 58 points. V-Varen Nagasaki drew 1-1 with Fagiano Okayama and are now only 3 points ahead of Matsumoto Yamaga in 7th with Okayama 2 points back in 8th. Tochigi sit in 12th, 7 points away from the play-offs and it would take something close to a miracle for them to make them now but they will want to end the season on a high and have something to look forward to next season.

Stats
Tochigi SC 4-2 Gamba Osaka

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

Match Preview – 06/10/2013 – J2: Section 36 – Tochigi SC v Gamba Osaka

Tochigi SC PredictionAfter an awful September in the league which saw us lose top spot last time out, Gamba travel to Tochigi in search of 3 points on the road since our 7-1 win over Gainare Tottori in the middle of August whilst hosts Tochigi SC will have a packed Green Stadium, more commonly known as Utsunomiya, for this game which kicks-off at 13:00 local time.

The hosts come into this game having picked up 7 points from an available 9 after sacking former manager Hiroshi Matsuda after the club went through a rotten spell of picking up just one win and 10 points in 14 league games. He was replaced by Ikuo Matsumoto and his tenure has seen the club move back in the right direction although the play-offs are all but gone. Their last game ended in a 2-2 draw away to Matsumoto Yamaga FC. Tochigi are certainly back on the rise and will be a dangerous opponent.

As for Gamba, we lost 1-0 at home to Ehime FC and have looked out of sorts in recent times, not being able to kill games off as well as failing terribly in defensive situations, although for once it is not the centre backs… it is a small consolation when you notice that Vissel Kobe have cut down a 7 point lead to have their own 1 point lead at the top and with 7 games to go, we need to finish the job properly.

The meeting between Gamba and Tochigi earlier in the season was the first game of June and Gamba won that at a trot as Leandro netted either side of Hiroki Fujiharu’s first goal of the season in the perfect first half that saw us take a 3-0 and keep it until the end of the match. At that point, Tochigi was in the play-off places and it was an excellent result, especially having the first-ever partnering of Uchida and Okazaki in central midfield. Tochigi now sit in 12th place and will end the season thinking about what could have been.

Gamba Osaka PredictionTochigi picked up their first home win in 9 matches in their last home match, which was an epic 7 goal thriller against Consadole Sapporo which saw the hosts edge the game 4-3 thanks to 5 minute of added time winner from Cristiano. Their problem is keeping clean sheets at home, as they last kept one against Avispa Fukuoka in the middle of June and have not beaten any of the current top 6 teams on their home turf.

Onto the team selections, starting with Tochigi SC. They will be without the banned Kazunori Kan after the midfielder picked up his 4th booking of the season last weekend. The hosts are also set to be without defender Hiroshi Nakano who has not featured since round 20 and midfielder Takumi Motohashi who picked up an injury against Consadole Sapporo in round 33. The hosts do have captain and talisman Paulinho back in midfield after 4 months on the side lines and he will certainly boost his side’s chances. The predicted starting eleven is to the side.

As for Gamba, a couple of players will return from injuries this weekend, with the most important being Shu Kurata. After injuring himself against Tokushima Vortis at the end of June, he has been patient and has finally reached some sort of fitness which will allow him to make the bench this weekend. What a relief! We have missed the fellow and his energy in the attacking areas. Another player we will need is Takahiro Futagawa, who missed out last weekend due to a slight injury but he is fine to travel to Tochigi and hopefully start on the left wing with Omori on the other. That was our biggest problem against Ehime, and this pairing of wingers is the best we have. Apart from those changes, I cannot see much happening, so my predicted started eleven is to the side.

Tatsuya UchidaAlthough I am a big fan of Tatsuya Uchida, I believe he could do a lot more for the team and is therefore my man to watch this weekend. Recently, he has been a bit negative in his play, not taking control of the game like he did away to Fagiano Okayama at the start of August. Many fans are calling for Konno to be moved back into midfield to take Uchida’s place. I have to disagree on that point but the fundamental issue is that he could play better. I want to see him grab the game by the scruff of the neck and push us towards victory. He needs to control Paulinho for Tochigi and stamp his authority on the midfield which will help us to win the match. If he does that, we have an excellent chance of getting the victory.

This game is not going to be easy at all and if anyone tells you any different, then they underestimate Tochigi. With the hosts in better form than they were under their former manager, it seems like they are improving slowly but surely and even though their chances to reach the play-offs are probably gone, they will no doubt give 110% in front of a packed stadium. I am sure we will be put under some tough periods but we need to show some character and get out of this rut. A draw might not be a bad result but the win would boost our confidence and push us forward once more. We have the quality but we need the right attitude to take all 3 points back to Banpaku. Who knows what will happen…

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