Shoki Hirai is the next out of the door

Shoki HiraiShoki Hirai becomes the next to join what looks to be a long line of players being released from their contract at the end of the season. The striker, who turns 26 next Wednesday, will end his relationship with Gamba that has lasted since 2003, bar an unhappy loan spell at Albirex Niigata in 2012.

He came back to Gamba this season knowing that he would be behind Leandro in the striking pecking order but took his first start against V-Varen Nagasaki well, netting twice. From 5 starts he netted 3 goals, adding one from the bench against FC Gifu at home. In recent times, he has been limited to short cameo appearances from the bench and has even fallen away from the 18 man squad all together. He appeared 17 this term but has been out of favour from the start.

He has definitely been out of Kenta Hasegawa’s plans but his poor attitude has not helped him. Seeing him leaving training without a smile, you could just tell he was not enjoying himself. I am sure he and Hasegawa will be glad to see the back of each other.

Since joining the top team in 2006, he mustered 103 appearances in all competitions for Gamba, scoring 31 goals. He has been mooted to be on the radar of Vissel Kobe but he could also head to Nagoya Grampus if Akira Nishino wants to be reunited with the forward. Wherever he goes, I wish him luck and hope he be successful there.

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

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Match Report – 24/11/2013 – J2: Section 42 – ThespaKusatsu Gunma 1-1 Gamba Osaka

ThespaKusatsu GunmaThe final match of the season was a far from entertaining 1-1 draw in front of 7,810 supporters. Neither team had anything to play for and although they did try to make it a contest, the finishing from both sides was woeful. We failed to get our 100th league goal of the campaign but ended the season as champions. Mission accomplished.

The hosts changed their 3-5-2 system from their 2-2 draw with Vissel Kobe to a 4-4-2 formation, with Hozaki the only change, coming in for Ryosuke Tada.

Gamba made three changes, one of which I rather did not expect. The first was the forced change of Iwashita in for Nishino due to suspension, handing Iwashita his first appearance and start since injuring himself against Tokyo Verdy. Takuya Takei was given just his 7th appearance of the season as he started over the less-than-impressive Kenya Okazaki whilst Hiroyuki Abe was shockingly chosen ahead of Akihiro Sato, pushing Kurata to play with Usami up-front. Katsuhisa Inamori made the bench for the first time this season, assuring that ever player had at least made it into the 18 this season.

ThespaKusatsu Gunma XI – Kita, Koyanagi, Kweon, Inui, Hozaki, Aoki, Kato, Sakai, Kobayashi, Hirashige, Daniel Lovinho.
ThespaKusatsu Gunma Subs – Naito, Nakamura, Segawa, Sakurada, Yokoyama, Eder, Nozaki.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Iwashita, Fujiharu, Takei, Uchida, Futagawa, Kurata, Abe, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Inamori, Okazaki, Rocha, Kawanishi, Sato.

1st Half:
Gamba OsakaNot much happened in the first half really except for the fact that Hiroyuki Abe was really a waste of space and time, always passing poorly and picking the wrong options when he was on the ball. Both teams created chances but were guilty of profligacy. Gamba’s best chances came for Futagawa and Usami, but the former put his effort wide on the stretch from a couple of yards under pressure whilst Usami had a couple of long range efforts go wide of the post. Takei also did the same from 30 yards. Thespa hardly threatened simply because they got too excited in front of goal and our defence scrambled the ball away fairly easily.

2nd Half:
Usami dazzled and sprinkled some life into the game in the 51st minute after he dribbled all the way across the penalty area without being tackled and with the ball hitting Kurata, he stole it off his toes and put the ball past Kita from 6 yards with the outside of his boot to make it 1-0 and Gamba’s 99th and final goal of the season.

Abe was taken off, but for Okazaki… whilst Kato was subbed for Eder for the hosts but Fujiharu should have made it 2-0 as he was put through on goal but was denied by Kita in their showdown. With a short amount of time to play, Hozaki was subbed for Segawa whilst Sato came on for Futagawa but only minutes later, we were back to level pegging as Fujigaya, on his final appearance, aptly parried a simple save right to substitute Eder from a Lovinho effort and the Brazilian made no mistake from 8 yards or so.

Aoki was taken off for Sakurada and there were 4 added minutes and Kawanishi got all of them in place of Uchida but Eder almost won the game for the hosts – he put his effort over the bar.

A lacklustre ending to a season well done – same goes for me and this match report I am afraid, but I think you and I have earned a rest from such long writings and readings.

Man of the Match:
Tatsuya UchidaWhilst the game was anything but a classic, Tatsuya Uchida stood out to me in this one. I think he was in control of the game for the most part and was the root of all our attacking play. He is one of my favourite players but he needs to be more assertive in his place if he is to succeed in J1 but he impressed me on Sunday. His passing was sharp and smooth on such a poor pitch/sand pit and he never looked out of place, taking over the Endo style of making the plays happen extremely well. I worry how much we will see of Tatsuya next year with reinforcements on their way but he will be a great asset if he continues to improve and be given the chance to do so.

Where it leaves both teams:
Regardless to say, both teams stayed in their respective 1st and 20th places. We ended up winning the league by 4 points (and 3 points short of our 90 points target) as Vissel won their final game 3-0 against Roasso Kumamoto. Thespa ended on 40 points and comfortably 9 points ahead of last-placed Gainare Tottori who enter the relegation play-off series against Kamatamare Sanuki.

Congratulations to Tokushima Vortis, JEF United and V-Varen Nagasaki who joined Kyoto Sanga in the play-offs. JEF snuck in thanks to a last-minute equaliser against Gainare Tottori ahead of the heartbroken Matsumoto Yamaga. Commiserations to them and Consadole Sapporo who did not get the win they needed to get their place.

Stats
ThespaKusatsu Gunma 1-1 Gamba Osaka

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

Yosuke Fujigaya’s 9 year spell comes to an end

After spending 9 years with the club, Gamba have decided against renewing the contract of goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya, 32, from the end of this season. Having been part of every winning side in the club’s history, he leaves just Yasuhito Endo and Takahiro Futagawa as the ever-present players picking up every trophy.

FujigayaFujigaya will be remembered fondly for his incredible clangers, even to the point where this dubious writer suspects he was offered a new deal but dropped his pen before the timer ran out on him. His arrival back in 2005 from Consadole Sapporo did coincide with our trophy haul arriving, being an integral part to every title we earned including the memorable 5-0 aggregate win in the 2008 ACL Final over Adelaide United.

Even though he played every minute of the 44 games we played this season, his improvement in the first half of the season was swiftly abated to previous low-levels where he produced errors. Even in his last game against ThespaKusatsu Gunma, he parried a simple shot back to the striker to score an easy goal that should not have happened. Typical easy stuff that was typically difficult for him to handle.

While Atsushi Kimura will be hoping to become the number 1 for next season, that will not happen unless we fail to get reported target Masaaki Higashiguchi from Albirex Niigata. The former Gamba Youth man must be close to signing otherwise you would think that this end for Fujigaya would not have happened yet. Higashiguchi is regarded as one the better keepers in the country and would definitely be an improvement on the departing Shizuoka man.

Thank you to Fujigaya for your hard work but I am not disappointed to see you leave. You were sometimes a great goalkeeper but your sheer inconsistency and unpredictability was your undoing in the end. Good luck to whoever gets you next, they might just need it.

Photo taken from calciomatome. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Preview – 24/11/2013 – J2: Section 42 – ThespaKusatsu Gunma v Gamba Osaka

ThespaKusatsu Gunma PredictionAfter a long season, we get to end it on my birthday with the title sealed as Gamba head up to Gunma to take on 20th place ThespaKusatsu Gunma at the Shoda Shoyu Stadium with a local kick-off time of 12:30. As both teams have their positions for the 2013 season locked in place, they should be looking to express themselves and end their respective seasons on a high note, knowing perfectly well that this might be the last time they meet for a long time.

Thespa came from 2 goals down last time out against Vissel Kobe to draw 2-2 at home. Ogawa and Popo gave the visitors the lead but Sakai drew one back before half time and top-man Hirashige levelled the scores just past the hour mark to dent the spirits of an already deflated Vissel camp.

Gamba endured a horrible 3-2 win that won us the title. Usami bagged an early goal which was swiftly wiped away by Bandai’s header from a corner. But Fujiharu forced an own goal immediately to put us 2-1 up at half time, where Usami netted again to seemingly end the tie, but a never-say-die attitude by Montedio got another goal for Bandai but they did not have quite enough to take a point or all 3 they needed which ended their play-off hopes.

The meeting earlier this season came in round 15 as we strolled to a 5-1 home win. Paulinho bagged after 2 minutes to get his first goal of the season but Hirashige levelled after an uncharacteristic mistake by Takaharu Nishino. Kurata and Leandro got us back to 3-1 by half time and Paulinho and Kurata got their braces within 2 minutes of each other just after the hour mark.

Gamba Osaka PredictionThespa have some decent form at home in their last 9 games given their league position; they have won 4 (Matsumoto, Kumamoto, Ehime and Okayama), drew 2 (Toyama and Kobe) and lost 3 (Gifu, Tochigi and Kyoto). Those three defeat all came one after the other and they have failed to keep a clean sheet at home in 5 games. Nevertheless, Gunma is by no means an easy place to visit and with ace striker Hirashige, they always have half a chance.

The hosts have a whole bunch of players who are supposed to be out of this match. Goalkeeper Daiki Tomii, defenders Shingo Arizono and Ryosuke Tada, midfielders Ryota Nagata and Hwang Song-Su, as well as striker Eder are all considered out of this game. Their predicted starting eleven is to the side.

Gamba will have to make one change, replacing Takaharu Nishino with Keisuke Iwashita due to suspension. Iwashita will make his return after 4 months out with an ankle injury picked up against Tokyo Verdy. Konno and Endo are available but will sit this one out due to small injuries and needing the rest. I hope Kenya Okazaki loses his spot to Takuya Takei in midfield but I do not see that happening. Kotaro Omori picked up a shoulder injury last weekend so is out for 3 weeks. My predicted side is to the side.

Keisuke IwashitaSo even though this game has no bearing on the final places of both teams, we will want to end in style and net 2 more goals to get 100 for the season. However, my man to watch is Keisuke Iwashita. He might be no Takaharu Nishino but with good J1 experience, you would be hoping that he and Niwa can sort out their dodgy partnership that has garnered just 1 clean sheet this season. He was a mess in the game he got injured against Verdy and I am not his biggest fan at all. If his passion and desire equated to talent, he would be one of the best but he needs to make a statement given that recruitment is required over the winter. I hope he is not too rusty on Sunday.

It will not be easy against a decent Gunma side but you would always fancy us to go there and take them apart. Our last 2 results away from home have been impressive and that should hopefully continue. We need to be wary of Hirashige and the decent-looking Daniel Lovinho. But with Usami, Fujiharu and Sato in great form, you would expect us to win this game if the hosts give us any chance to do so. A good win would be a welcome birthday present indeed, Gamba.

Photo taken from img.njpw.jp. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Match Report – 17/11/2013 – J2: Section 41 – Gamba Osaka 3-2 Montedio Yamagata

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.

1st Half:
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.

Gamba OsakaMontedio 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.

2nd Half:
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.

Montedio YamagataSo 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:
Takashi UsamiThe 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.

Stats
Gamba Osaka 3-2 Montedio Yamagata

Photo taken from ameba. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.

Brazilian duo Rocha and Paulinho to depart

The first severing of ties happened today as Brazilian pair Rocha (27, striker) and Paulinho (31, striker) have not been given contract renewals past the end of the season.

Whilst it does not particularly come as a shock, I am particularly said that Paulinho is leaving. Having met the man this year, I can tell you that he is one of the kindest and happiest people you will ever meet, let alone footballer. This season, he was restricted to just 8 league starts this season, coming off the bench 11 times and garnering a total of 851 minutes of game time until now. He netted 6 goals this season however: 2 v Gunma, 1 v Tokushima, 2 v Gifu and 1 v Tokyo Verdy. His performance against Tokushima Vortis sticks out as his best this season, scoring not only a belter but having a terrific match and setting up the second goal of the game. But being 31 years old and taking up a valuable spot for foreign players, added with the lack of game time he has got this year, partially due to injuries towards the end of the season, it makes sense to let him go.

This is what Paulinho had to say on his imminent departure:

Thank you so much for the two years I had at Gamba. We were unfortunately relegated last year but I am really happy that we were promoted this year. I am proud to have joined such a group of players. Thank you so much.

And I want to say thank you to Paulinho too. He made my time in Osaka an even happier one by being the kind man he is. I am sure he will be able to find a good team in Japan, in the lower half of J1 or a top J2 team. Wherever he goes, I will follow him to make sure he shows his ability. Thank you, Paulinho, for your hard work over these past two years. Continue to do your best at your next team.

Rocha came in only during the summer after the end of Leandro’s loan period. He initially had a superb effect on the team, scoring on his debut against Tokyo Verdy, and going on to ne 6 goals in his 4 next games. He then went 3 games without a goal but returned to form for a short time against Matsumoto Yamaga FC with another brace. Since then, he has picked up only 3 short sub appearances in 6 games without any goals.

The biggest problem for Rocha was his fitness and his play style. He is a player that will score if he is given the space to do so within the penalty area, otherwise he does nothing for the team. This means that he did not quite fit the mould that Gamba wants from its players. Additionally, he seems a little overweight which may have been detrimental to his time in Osaka. Saying all this however, scoring 9 goals in 12 appearances is no mean feat and I am sure his next team will acquire a good player if they play to his strengths. This is what the man himself had to say:

It is a shame that my contract will not be renewed and I have to leave. To the people involved, especially the supporters, I appreciate you from my heart. Japan is a wonderful country and myself and my family would be happy for me to play here again if I got the chance. It was a short time but thank you so much.

Thank you to Rocha for his goals, his wonderful chant and his hard work over the 4 months that he could play for Gamba. He will do well at a team that puts him as their number one striker, and I am sure there are some J.League teams that would do well to take him on if they can.

So with two foreign spots now free and Evson being on his way to Gamba apparently (I wait for official confirmation), Gamba will be looking to get 2 top quality foreigners in before the start of next season. One will most likely be a striker because we look a bit short on them now, but we can only wait and see.

Takaharu Nishino gets the U-20 call

This news broke on Thursday so this piece is a bit late but I will try and keep it short. Anyway, congratulations to Takaharu Nishino for getting the recognition he deserves as he was called-up by the U-20 national team for a training camp in Myanmar next week.

Nishino U-20He will be away from the 18th to the 21st November in a 4 day camp which consists of prospective members of the 2016 Olympic team in Rio. This may just be the start of a long road for Nishino and the other members of the camp so will be more of a bonding camp more than anything else, allowing the players to get to know each other. There are many players currently playing in J2 which shows that it really is the home of young Japanese talent.

Takaharu will not be in training for Gamba next week but will be available for the match against ThespaKusatsu Gunma. He may not actually start with the busy schedule he will have gone through but will be hoping to top-off the end of the season by steering us to victory over Yamagata and Gunma before the season is out.

He had this to say about being selected:

I am honoured to have be chosen for the U-20 national team. I will have to go and do my best with my full effort in order to be chosen for the Rio Olympics.

Nishino has been an absolute star for Gamba this season, playing in 28 league matches and picking up clean sheets in half of those games. He has also scored 3 goals thus far against Consadole Sapporo, Gainare Tottori and Roasso Kumamoto. It has been his control at the back and leadership skills that have shone through, making him the most promising and exciting player to get games this season. I think he is the best centre-back we have and having only just turned 20, he can really only go onwards and upwards.

Good Luck Takaharu on your long journey to Rio. I know you will make it so show them everything you’ve got!

Photo taken from pbs.twimg. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.