With over 18,000 people turning up for the opening game of the season, our return to J1 ended in a disappointing 1-0 defeat that saw hated rivals walk away with all 3 points, and unfortunately deservedly so on the balance of things.
Our team selection was almost as forecast as Higashiguchi made his debut in goal for us having joined from Albirex Niigata during the winter. Kaji beat Yonekura to right-back spot whilst the unconvincing pairing of Iwashita and Niwa took the centre-back spots. Further forward, Abe surprisingly missed out but with him not playing in the training match on Sunday, we can safely assume he is injured. Akihiro Sato started up front ahead of new signing Lins whilst Endo and Kurata shook off knocks to start in midfield.
The visitors started the brighter and wasted chances through Haraguchi but he sent his efforts well off target. They were targeting our right and Ugajin was getting lots of freedom down that side as the wingers failed to track their men whilst Uchida and Konno were being pulled around the pitch. With us failing to hold onto the ball, Umesaki took aim from 30 yards but his effort, swerving all over the place, went over the bar.
It took us until the 26th minute to create a decent chance, with Fujiharu crossing to Sato in the box but on the stretch he made no contact and Makino put it out of play. Kaji was kept busy at right-back but was doing a stellar job, although Koroki should have made it 1-0 after finding space on the penalty spot but he scuffed his effort wide. Konno went for a 25 yard shot but sent his effort narrowly wide of the post and whilst we started to control some possession, the Urawa defensive wall was just too strong.
So then they made it 1-0 through Makino. The corner was sent in and although Sato won his header freely, it was a poor one which Abe flicked towards goal allowing Makino, who had escaped Niwa’s attentions, to poke home from just a couple of yards. A very poor way to concede a goal, particularly the winning goal and with Kenta Hasegawa stressing it as a point we had worked on a lot.
Half time came with the following thoughts. We had been dominated from start to finish of that half and there was no pressure on the ball and we gave it away easily. Futagawa was by far the worst player – his control was poor and he failed to defend properly. He had to come off.
And so Futagawa was taken off for Omori who almost made an immediate impact, rifling a shot towards goal that Nishikawa did well to save. Iwashita was then booked for dragging back Koroki as the last man and Kurata sent one well wide of the post after a good one-two with Sato. Niwa the thought he had drawn us level in the 65th minute from an Endo free kick but he had strayed marginally offside.
Omori was denied a tap-in due to a great defensive block after Endo headered across the box to him and Urawa countered to find substitute Lee one-on-one with Higashiguchi but Omori came from nowhere to keep the game alive with an incredible block. With time ticking down, Uchida was sacrificed for Lins on his debut whilst Fujiharu picked up a caution for also fouling Koroki.
Urawa were comfortably holding onto the 1-0 win and even though Yonekura came on for Kaji too late, Niwa was pushed over in the penalty area but nothing was given in the 95th minute, leading to Urawa taking the win.
Gamba Man of the Match
Kaji and Omori had very good games but I think that Masaaki Higashiguchi just shaded it. He was not tested so much but even with Urawa having a lot of the possession, Iwashita and Niwa did not do too much wrong at those times and that was down to the influence of our new goalkeeper. It was a very promising debut for Masaaki and you could really tell he has a lot more quality that the departed Fujigaya and he really will save us many points this year. A faultless debut – a return to Niigata on the books next which will test him personally and professionally.
The table is only a week old so there is not too much point in dwelling on it, but Gamba are one of seven teams to have lost on match day one including The Pigs. So not all that bad. We are not in the relegation zone as we did not lose by 2-0, 4-0 or 5-0 for the teams below us.
Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Facebook. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.