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