Championes, championes, olé olé olé!
13,970 spectators turned out to watch us pick up the J2 trophy at Banpaku as we took down a valiant Montedio Yamagata. It was the first time that Gamba have ever picked up a trophy at Banpaku which is remarkable in itself, but we also became the first team to win every domestic prize in professional Japanese football to date.
Kenta Hasegawa was forced into 2 changes with Endo and Konno on international duty. He surprisingly brought in Kenya Okazaki over Takuya Takei in midfield (which really underlines that he does not like Takei who will probably be leaving) whilst Akihiro Sato got his first start for over a year as he partnered Takashi Usami up front.
Montedio were without suspended defender Nishikawa and striker Nakajima, but also took out defender Kim, midfielder Ito and striker Hayashi, making a total of 5 changes to their previous starting eleven against Matsumoto Yamaga FC. They brought in defenders Yamada and Horinouchi, midfielder Ishikawa and strikers Bandai and Yamazaki.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Nishino, Fujiharu, Okazaki, Uchida, Futagawa, Kurata, Sato, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Iwashita, Abe, Omori, Takei, Rocha.
Montedio Yamagata XI – Tokizawa, Yamada, Horinouchi, Lee, Nakamura, Miyasaka, Akiba, Ishikawa, Romero Frank, Bandai, Yamazaki.
Montedio Yamagata Subs – Shimizu, Kim, Sakuda, Higa, Tanimura, Pena, Okubo.
We got off to a slow start as Montedio controlled the first 10 minutes in possession without really going anywhere with it – the only chance they did get came from a Akiba driver from 25 yards or so that went straight down the throat of Fujigaya in goal. We woke up from here and immediately responded but Fujiharu blazed over after Kurata and Sato failed to shoot, instead looking for the pass. Fujiharu and Sato combined a moment later but the latter found the ball behind him and he put it over the bar. Sato was at it again just a minute later, this time flicking on for Usami who flicked the ball over his marker before controlling and firing into the far post from an acute angle to give us a 1-0 lead. A very good goal from the front two.
Montedio were level just 5 minutes later however. It all came from a free kick by Romero Frank that was excellently pushed over the bar by Fujigaya, but the resulting corner saw Bandai and another unmarked Yamagata player attack the cross, with Bandai flicking it across goal and with nobody on the back post, he equalised. Another failure of the zonal system but having nobody on the posts is a basic error.
But just 2 minutes later, we made it 2-1. Kurata slid a nice pass down the side for Fujiharu to cross into the box between the keeper and defender Nakamura, who caught in two minds allowed the ball to hit him and go into the back of his own net with Sato lurking behind him. Typically it was Fujiharu’s excellent attacking play from defence that made all the difference – it was no surprise to see him voted Mr.Gamba for 2013.
Montedio were not downbeat and continued to go for it as Ishikawa forced Fujigaya into an excellent save down low following a shot from 25 yards with too much space. Nishino then took down his man on the half way line and was given his 4th booking over the season – out of the trip to Gunma. We put the pressure back on and had several chances, first Fujiharu being denied a tap-in after a low Usami shot, then Futagawa played a lovely pass around the back of the Montedio defence but Sato fluffed his shot with only the keeper to beat from 8 yards – a terrible miss which left us at only 2-1 going into half time.
This half was going to be a scrap and it started that way with kick-off being a total mess ending with Kurata being booked for a kick on Romero Frank. It was a game in midfield for the first 20 minutes of the second half as neither side could get a proper foothold on the game. Yamagata made their only substitute with defender Yamada being taken off for striker Okubo knowing they needed to win. The visitors had a couple of corners that Lee got his head onto but he could not direct them on target.
So Usami punished them with a superbly taken goal. Futagawa won his tackle near the half-way line and chipped towards Usami who attacked his defender, dummying a couple of times either way before rifling a left-footed shot in off the post past the helpless dive of Tokizawa. Full of confidence and surely that was game over, right?
Yet credit to Montedio as they continued to fight for everything until the last moment. Firstly, Omori and Rocha joined the fray for Futagawa and Sato in the 70th minute, but Yamagata continued to press and finally got their second goal through Bandai again, as Romero Frank was given too much space on the edge opf the box to shoot through several bodies; Fujigaya should still have done better as he parried the shot straight to Bandai for an easy tap-in. Game back on.
The game was a total mess for the last 15 minutes or so as we started to metaphorically wet ourselves but Montedio did not quite have enough to break us down. It was all hands to the pump in defence and Takei was brought on to wind the clock down, replacing Okazaki. So when the referee finally blew his whistle, it was time to celebrate. Fujiharu collapsed in tears whilst Niwa let his emotions show too, but it was relief and delight in the end. Valiant effort but Yamagata, but they were never going to stop us from clinching our first ever title at Banpaku.
Man of the Match:
The difference between the two sides was simply one player, and that man was Takashi Usami. He took his two goals superbly and in a game where mistakes were plentiful because both teams had something to fight for, he was probably the calmest man out there. He was not involved so much in the second half but took the one chance he got – which turned out to be the clincher. He has been an absolute gem since returning to Banpaku, and may his form continue through to 2014 and beyond.
Where it leaves both teams:
This win won us the title and ended the play-off hopes of valiant Montedio. Their chances were slim to start with but with results elsewhere going against them, even a win would have being futile. Their topsy-turvy season ends in disappointment and another long year in J2. Credit to them for going all-out for it though. Even though we clinched the title with the win, Vissel Kobe dropped points yet again as they drew 2-2 to ThespaKusatsu Gunma, giving away a 2-0 lead. Their hearts seemed out of it and put them 6 points off our pace. We play Gunma next, but the interesting games will involve the battle for the 3 open play-off places, which I recommend everyone to watch.
Photo taken from ameba. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.