In front of a strong crowd of 18,301, Gamba did not disappoint and were rather marvellous as we attained a draw against current J1 champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Banpaku. To say we will feel disappointed by some diving and poor refereeing that cost us a deserved win is an understatement as we were superb. But we will get onto that later.
There were a few changes from the last league game following some impressive performances in the Nabisco Cup as well as a few returns from injury. In defence, Kaji and Fujiharu returned to the starting eleven after being rested in midweek meaning Yonekura dropped to the bench whilst Oh Jae-Suk dropped from the team. Iwashita returned from a small injury to re-partner Niwa at centre-half, pushing Nishino to the bench. In midfield, Myojin retained his place in centre-midfield meaning Uchida stayed on the bench whilst Kurata took the place of Futagawa. Abe kept his spot on the opposite wing following a good showing against Vissel. This meant that the front two was a never-before-seen pairing of Endo and Lins, the latter taking over from Sato and getting his first league start for Gamba. Kawata and Omori took the final two spots on the bench.
The first 20 minutes or so of the game was fairly even although we shaded it on chances created. Sanfrecce were allowed to have the ball in defence but as soon as they got into midfield, we pressed them hard and they did not seem to have much of a threat – like the whole game really. The first decent chance came for Abe after Endo pinged a pass into his path but under pressure, he fired high and wide via a deflection. The resulting corner allowed Sanfrecce to break away following a poor pass Iwashita but we got back in numbers well and Takahagi fired comfortably over the bar.
25 minutes into the game and Endo made it 1-0 to us. Kaji spotted Abe losing his marker (superbly I will add) and he played a ball over the top for the winger to get onto the end of and in the box he squared to the captain who wonderfully curled home at the near post – which seemed near impossible to do. Smart would describe that goal but all three players involved and it was nothing more than we deserved.
The next 15 minutes was a continuation of the sparing match before the goal and we looked comfortable, no doubt thanks to Iwashita getting his head on every cross that came into the box – he was rock solid. Our hard work was shining through and it was very pleasing considering the Sendai performance the weekend before. We could have made it 2-0 in the 43rd minute through Lins following a cross from Konno that hit the defender and came out to the Brazilian but his effort from 6 yards took a decisive deflection that unfortunately took it away from goal. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant first half – 2-0 would not have flattered us at all.
After the interval, the game continued at its first half pace with Gamba creating the best opportunities although nothing really threatened the goal of Takuto Hayashi. As I was starting to think that a second goal was going to be crucial, the referee gave a penalty to Sanfrecce and it was a terrible call. The ball came out the air and Ishihara took the ball past Niwa who had raised a foot but not at Ishihara, who opportunistically went past that leg and decided to run into Niwa’s back leg – if at all touching it – and then fallingg over. He convinced the referee and nobody else. Hisato Sato put the resulting terribleness just beyond Higashiguchi’s left hand to unjustly make it 1-1. So angry!
Then the side that people do not see of Sanfrecce came out. Ishihara threw an elbow at Kurata but got Shu booked whilst Notsuda took a dive in the penalty area but this time the referee got it right and booked him. Kaji, Kurata and Myojin were all exchanged for Yonekura, Futagawa and Sato with 15-20 minutes remaining and it was Futagawa who was looking to get the match back in our favour once more. First he sent a teasing cross towards Sato who was just beaten to the cross by his marker denying a certain goal whilst Abe crossed for our number 10 a few minutes later who lost his marker but from 6 yards out was quickly charged down by Hayashi who stopped an inevitable goal. Fujiharu then whipped in a cross which was somehow put over the bar from a couple of yards by a defender whilst Sato picked up his first booking for pulling.
The game ended that way and it was a really disappointing result in the end, and not because we had shot ourselves in the foot. We were excellent and I was really proud with the way we played – we defended astutely and were an attacking threat and Sanfrecce will count themselves fortunate to leave with a point. I am very displeased with the manner in which they got that point. Our effort and all-round brilliant performance was ruined by someone who wanted to fool the referee, and he succeeded. However, I would have loved a point before the game so I cannot to be too upset about it but on another day we would have deservedly taken all 3 points. Such a shame, but well done Gamba Osaka! More of the same please!
Gamba Man of the Match
There are a couple of candidates for me. I think the runners-up today were Myojin and Konno. They were our solid foundation to build upon and they seemed to give us a good balance in midfield. Konno in particular was given freedom to go forward when necessary and he got in the tackles and made some good chances. I see Myojin starting ahead of Uchida as long as he keeps up his level of performance. Yet, Hiroyuki Abe stole the show for me. He had a tough 2013 due to injuries but is a talent and a great all-rounder and showed that today. He worked hard in defence and supported Kaji well there but also had confidence going forward, assisting Endo brilliantly for our goal and not being afraid to take a shot – something we have been lacking in recent times. If he continues like this, we will be seeing the Abe we all know is there. It would be nice for him to be more clinical going forward but he was a true asset today. Excellent work by the whole team though, against the best in the land for the past two years!
Despite this excellent point, which should have been 3, we slip down to 11th place in the standings. Although given our tough start I think we are holding our own very well thus far and I would have expected us to be at 5 points after these games so I am not disappointed. We need to just keep plugging away but I can already see at least 4 teams worse than us in the league – so there is no reason to worry, we have done well so far!
Photo taken from Gamba Osaka’s Official Site. No copyright infringement intended. Original here.