A superb defensive display and an attack that always looked like it could hurt Sanga did so as the most professional and patient performance I could never have dreamed from Gamba came at the right time as we ended Kyoto Sanga’s 9 match unbeaten run. The 15,380 people who turned out for this game (surely half were Gamba fans) in the rain at Nishikyogoku saw a rather weak Sanga without any bite or sting to affect our stabilising back line and saw us edge a win away from the title.
The hosts made two changes to the starting eleven against Vissel Kobe. Centre back Bajalica dropped out of the team completely and was replaced by Takashi Uchino, a man who had not started a game for almost 2 years previously. Their other change was a forced one as on-loan Gamba man Shigeru Yokotani was ineligible to play and was thus replaced by Mitsuhira up front. The two spare places on the bench were filled by Takahashi and Miyayoshi.
Gamba made not a single change to the starting eleven that battered Roasso Kumamoto last weekend and rightly so. On the bench, there just a single change came as Kotaro Omori returned from his slightly hamstring injury that kept him out last weekend – he took over from the unpopular Takuya Takei.
Kyoto Sanga XI – Oh, Shimohata, Uchino, Someya, Fukumura, Akimoto, Kuranuki, Kudo, Yamase, Mitsuhira, Komai.
Kyoto Sanga Subs – Komada, Hwang, Takahashi, Nakayama, Hara, Miyayoshi, Nakamura.
Gamba Osaka XI – Fujigaya, Kaji, Niwa, Nishino, Fujiharu, Konno, Uchida, Futagawa, Kurata, Endo, Usami.
Gamba Osaka Subs – Kimura, Oh J.S., Abe, Omori, Okazaki, Rocha, Sato.
We had the first notable chance of the game in the 4th minute as Usami was fouled late down the right; the tactic to stop us at all costs showed its ugly face several times during the first half. Endo came over and whipped the ball in right onto the head of Usami who headed straight at Oh in goal from 7 yards. A poor miss, poor marking but a nice start. We controlled the match in the first 10 minutes without really going anywhere but Futagawa would have changed that if he was a little longer – his toes could not quite connect with Kurata’s superb low cross from the left.
Usami was then set-up by Uchida who harried the ball and won it back 25 yards from goal and passed to Usami who lashed his shot straight at Oh, 20 yards from goal. Fujiharu was our furthest man forward and it looked like we had learned from our 3-3 draw against Sanga on the first day of the season. We had 6 players in the final 30 yards pressuring Sanga into handing us the ball back after some slick passing on our part, and it was only a matter of time before we made them pay for that. Yet not before Someya was finally booked for clipping Endo’s ankle late.
So who scored? Well the first surprise was it took us 27 minutes to finally get our goal; the second was that it was Konno who rattled the ball home. Fujiharu passed to Usami down the line and continued on his way with no Sanga player coming over to track him, allowing Usami to pass back to our beautiful left-back who crossed to the back post. Kurata made a run to take away players to the front post but a lack of communication between Oh and his defender meant Oh punched away to the edge of the area when he did not need to, allowing Konno to race onto the ball and whack it home from 14 yards.
We consolidated the score for the next 10 minutes or so as Sanga looked clueless on how to break us down, their only clear chance coming from a 20 yard strike by Kudo hitting the top of the bar in the 36th minute. Truthfully though, we got slack towards the end of the half and gave something for Sanga to hold onto for hope. We had to scramble the ball away a couple of times but Fujigaya was not tested. The half ended there, nicely poised for Sanga to rally back or for us to be strong at the back and pass them off the pitch.
None of that really happened though. Sanga had a lot of the possession in the second half as we had trouble getting out of our half. Futagawa was replaced by Omori in the 53rd minute to freshen up the midfield but Sanga continued to hold onto the ball. We continued to stay strong, something that no doubt surprised every Gamba fan. We were working like a real team, an entity, as one. Something we have never seen before from Gamba. We stood up and were counted, man for man, as a team. Despite the fact that we were not in control of the ball, we were controlling the game by preventing a shot for Sanga. It took them a whole 18 minutes into the half to force Fujigaya into a simple save, then he flapped at a corner but Fujiharu bailed him out at the back post.
Sanga were starting to push harder and brought on striker Miyayoshi for Kunanuki. In the 69th minute, just as started to think that Usami was going to get pulled off because he was unable to hold the ball up, Kenta Hasegawa duly obliged by bringing on Akihiro Sato in his place. This substitute worked wonders as Sato immediately showed the skills Usami lacked, bringing others into play, allowing us to relieve the pressure.
Uchida almost allowed Sanga back into the game in the 77th minute, dawdling on the ball and being tackled, but Kudo was well blocked by Fujigaya following a pressing bit of defensive play. They then brought off defender Shimohata for Nakamura, flooding our half with bodies but this allowed us to break away a lot more in the space left behind. Uchida won us a corner which was taken by Endo and headed down into the ground by Nishino and punched over the bar by Oh. Nishino’s landing gave him cramp, something that he had to leave the pitch for.
As soon as he returned, we made it 2-0. With only our 3rd shot of the second half, Kotaro Omori bagged his first ever professional goal and the clincher. It was just a long kick by Fujigaya, not flicked on by Sato but still the defender mis-controlled it and handed the ball over to Endo, which was passed over to the left and to the unmarked Omori to go straight through on goal and put it under Oh to end the game. Omori rushed over to his best friend Usami on the bench to share the moment and he also got a high-five from the boss.
Sanga brought on Hara but it was too little too late. I have to say that I was proud of the players for the way that stood up to Kyoto and ensured that they had little opportunity to make a chance. We might need this type of performance a lot more in J1 so it was good to see us protect the clean sheet and do it extremely well. An excellent result and performance coming along with our first away clean sheet since beating Mito HollyHock away in June, 148 days previously. Happy days.
Man of the Match:
Although Sanga were pretty much toothless throughout the game, there were still a few hairy moments that the defence dealt with impeccably. You only have to look at the centre backs to see how strong they were individually and as a pair – our best central pairing. Out of the two, Daiki Niwa just shaded it as our rock at the back. He blocked every cross and shot, practically won all his tackles and kept Kyoto to half-chances at best. He was superb, committed and faultless, which is not what I have said before. Together with Nishino, he looks like a completely different player and was class today. Take nothing away from the whole team though – everybody was brilliant. From the front to the back, everybody did their bit. Wonderful.
Where it leaves both teams:
This impressive victory puts us on the brink of winning the championship because Vissel Kobe succumbed to a 1-0 away defeat to play-off chasing Consadole Sapporo. We are 4 points ahead of our Kansai rivals with just 2 games left to play so we can win the league in front of our adoring fans at Banpaku next weekend with a win or if Kobe fail to win (because, you know, our goal difference is awesome). Kyoto Sanga stay in 3rd and will be looking to stay there in their remaining matches to have an advantage in the play-offs, now that we helped Vissel attain their place in J1 next season with our victory (you’re not welcome!). Kyoto sit 4 points ahead of V-Varen in 4th so 3rd place is all but theirs.
Photo taken from ameba. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.