Match Previews – 21/05/2014 to 28/05/214 – Nabisco Cup: Match Days 4-6

Despite the league campaign being done until mid-July, a week of Nabisco Cup games start from Wednesday as we look to qualify to the quarter-finals of the competition. Gamba will be the last team to get a bye in the group so will have to secure our position in the top 2 as soon as possible. Usually I would write out a preview and report for each but with so many games in such a short time, and the lack of said time, I will preview and report on all the games collectively.

The first game, which is on Wednesday 21st May, is a home game against Kashima Antlers with the kick-off time being 19:00 JST. Antlers have already beaten us at Banpaku this season in a comfortable 2-0 game for them with Davi and Caio netting for the visitors. They sit in 4th place on an equal amount of points as us (6 points) and will be looking to improve on their recent league form.

The second game comes on Saturday 24th May which is also at Banpaku, the kick-off time being 16:00 JST. We will host FC Tokyo, the team that humiliated us just last weekend in a 3-0 home win at Ajinomoto Stadium with Edu being the prime man we donated to as he scored twice. The visitors sit atop of Group A at the moment with 7 points from 3 games and will be looking to extend their lead knowing S-Pulse have a game in hand.

The final match before the 7 week or so break comes in Sendai as we take on Vegalta at the Yurtec Stadium with a 19:00 JST kick-off time on Wednesday 28th May. The league match between the two sides came back in round 3, ending in a 0-0 draw in Sendai. Vegalta have only 1 point from their 3 games so far but have been banging in-form in the league of late, winning 4 games in succession and taking themselves away from us and the relegation zone.

So to the players who will be out of the games. Firstly, Endo and Konno have already left to join up with the national team ahead of the World Cup and are therefore not available whilst Naoki Ogawa has joined the U-19 national team for a training camp in will miss the Kashima match. Oh Jae-Suk is suspended for the Kashima game having picked up the 2 necessary cautions it takes to get one suspended. Other than that, we should be missing no-one except for the obvious Kaji and Tatsuya Uchida who are both still a touch too far away – at best they can make the Sendai game.

You would be hoping that the guys who have been used thus far in the competition will continue to be given a chance – the likes of Yuto Uchida, Yonekura, Ideguchi, Myojin, Okazaki etc. spring to mind the most as they are all in search of some match practice in one way or another. These guys need to be given a chance to show the manager what they can do as his regular choices have not worked out so well as of yet. The manager also needs to be making a solid starting eleven as we have not had a consistent one yet, and these eleven players (barring Endo and Konno) should be given time to gel in these 3 games. I would rather see us show promise in these next 3 games than qualify with the same old same old. It will be up to the manager to decide on that.

We need to end on a positive note following the disgrace of a performance on the weekend. The players need to give the fans something to look forward whilst ensuring that the manager keeps his job. Hopefully these two points can be achieved in conjunction with making a solid starting eleven.


Match Report – 17/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 14 – FC Tokyo 3-0 Gamba Osaka

Our biggest and by far worst defeat of the season thus far happen in front of a 26,485 strong crowd at Ajinomoto Stadium as FC Tokyo’s blistering start was too much for us to handle as we slumped back into the relegation zone as we reached the World Cup break for the league campaign.

Kenta Hasegawa made one change to the side that started against Nagoya Grampus, with goal-scorer from that game Kotaro Omori starting in place of Takahiro Futagawa.There was a further change on the bench as Kenya Okazaki took the place of Myojin – the first time Okazaki has been in a J1 squad and his first glimpse of first team action was just around the corner following a few months out on the sidelines following injury.

First Half
AWAY v FC TokyoThe general rule of thumb for an away game is be tight and solid in the first 15 minutes or so, but boy didn’t we ignore that! 37 seconds in an we were 1-0 down thanks to Edu’s strike following a cut-back Kawano. Iwashita and Fujiharu were caught napping as a ball was clipped forward and then flicked to Kawano – Nishino lost Edu and left him to Oh for some reason and the Korean could not get to Edu quick enough. The goal was however blatantly offside but of course, no replays. The hosts with a goal for the first time in 4 games.

And it was 2-0 in the 3rd minute with Muto getting in on the act. Iwashita to blame again as he cut out a pass and then, running into touch, passed the ball to a Tokyo player who slide the ball into the empty space he had vacated and again Nishino did not get close enough, allowing Muto to fire in past Higashiguchi at the near post – the keeper should have done much better. Terrible start.

Usami almost got us back within touching distance but Gonda’s save at the second attempt prevented the ball going in whilst the hosts pressing well and forcing us to play too quickly. Iwashita was given his 3rd booking of the season and wrongly so after cleanly taking the ball. We should have been level through a Nishino header but that was cleared off the line by a defender following an Endo corner. The centre-backs were just awful together and somehow we controlled the rest of the half but had no bite whilst letting Muto and Edu half-chances which they did not take this time round.

Second Half
Futagawa was brought on for the ineffective Abe whilst I would have preferred to have seen Endo, Konno and Iwashita off – all dire. Usami was fouled in the penalty box after showing some drive but like always, nothing was given… Endo then sent Konno the worst pass he has ever played as it eluded his midfield partner, came to Takashi who passed simply to Edu who was allowed to control the ball, turn and pick his spot before firing past Higashiguchi from the edge of the area. Reread the last sentence and surely you would be frustrated too! Iwashita and Nishino nowhere to be seen.

Endo got booked and from the following free kick Ota hit the bar whilst Iwashita was subbed for Kenya Okazaki to make his J1 debut, Konno to centre-back. Kurata got booked and Lins came on for Omori and here is my qualm – why the hell was Endo still on? It was the worst game I have ever seen him play and Hasegawa did not have the balls to make a statement and pull him off – he is basically letting Endo be an untouchable who can get away with anything because he is our most famous player. Absolute bullshit.

The game lulled to an end with Oh and Kurata combining well a few times and Usami being tripped in the box again to get not penalty call. I do not want to say much more.

Gamba Man of the Match
HumfOh Jae-Suk and Shu Kurata for never giving up. Usami close behind. That is all.

Higashiguchi – 3
Oh Jae-Suk – 5.5
Nishino – 2
Iwashita – 1.5
Fujiharu – 3
Endo – 1.5
Konno – 2
Omori – 3.5
Kurata – 6
Abe – 2.5
Usami – 4.5
Futagawa – 3 (Sub)
Okazaki – 4 (Sub)
Lins – 3 (Sub)

Table Standing
We slipped to 16th and back into the relegation places. Kofu won 3-0, Sendai won for the 4th time in a row, Grampus and Omiya got a point and F.Marinos also won 3-0. A terrible weekend all round. We have a hell of a lot to do when J1 restarts in mid-July. Let’s hope the break sorts the players out.

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

Match Preview – 17/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 14 – FC Tokyo v Gamba Osaka

The final league match before the World Cup break is upon us as we make the trip to the capital to take on FC Tokyo at the Ajinomoto Stadium for a 18:00 JST kick-off with both sides looking to make a move away from the relegation places and put themselves in a good position to move forward after the break.

FC Tokyo have been in a barren run in recent times in the league, scoring just 1 in their last 5 games and conceding 3 times, picking up a total of 4 points from a possible 15. Their only goal came at the start of that run when they beat Yokohama F.Marinos 1-0, but have since gone on to lost 3 in a row followed by a draw against basement dwellers Tokushima Vortis in Shikoku to add insult to injury.

AWAY v FC TokyoThe 2012 season saw FC Tokyo get the better of us in the two league games we played in, with the capital side taking 4 points from a possible 6. They won the home tie 3-2 thanks to a brace from ex-Gamba man Lucas and some awful goalkeeping from Yosuke Fujigaya, whilst the home tie saw us go ahead twice through Akihiro Ienaga only to be pulled back each time.

The last time we visited Ajinomoto Stadium, there was an absolute downpour and lightening storms which halted the game for an hour – all this after Gamba came from 2-0 down to lead 3-2 over Tokyo Verdy in July 2013. The game ended 3-3 with the conditions playing their part at the end of the game.

There has been no news on injuries or recoveries from injury although Tatsuya Uchida and Kenya Okazaki, especially the former, should be pushing for at least a place on the bench following two games out with a minor niggle. Okazaki might have to wait until the Nabisco Cup ties at the end of the month.

With this all being said, I can see only one change from the starting eleven from last weekend’s win over Nagoya Grampus, and that would be Omori starting in place of Futagawa. However, this is not a given considering Hasegawa might want to use Omori’s pace later on in the game – I say start him. Elsewhere, even with the return of Koki Yonekura from injury, I can only see Oh Jae-Suk keeping his place at right-back seeing that he has been exceptional. Iwashita will continue to play with a face mask as due to his fractured nose and I expect Nishino to start alongside him once again.

This game should see Gamba as slight favourites and rightly so seeing how we have played since Usami returned from injury. It would be a wonderful way to end before the break if we were to win and I cannot see why we will not be able to do it, particularly against a side with a new manager which has not scored in 4 games. Of course, taking a point on the road is always welcomed but when you can push one of your rivals further away from you, you must take that opportunity.

Match Report – 10/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 13 – Nagoya Grampus 1-2 Gamba Osaka

Two wins in a row for the first time this season in the league welcomed us after what appeared to be an excellent victory over Nagoya Grampus at the Toyota Stadium in front of 20,781 fans. Nothing like the 5-0 win last time out there but superb nonetheless – just a real shame there was not a single stream to watch the game, but a long highlights video on YouTube is the saviour!

There were two changes to the starting eleven following the win over Tokushima Vortis on Tuesday, with Hiroyuki Abe and Shu Kurata taking the places of Kotaro Omori and Lins – the former unlucky to find himself on the bench but Hasegawa did say that after the game he did want to use Kotaro to use his pace and stretch the game later on. Keisuke Iwashita wore a face mask to protect himself from further injury to his fractured nose. On the bench, Koki Yonekura made his comeback from almost 2 months out by taking the spot of Yuto Uchida whilst Kimura took over from Kawata as the back-up goalkeeper, the latter probably with a slight niggle.

I think this was a good starting eleven given what we have – only Omori could say he deserved to start but was used to full effect later on in the game. The players and the manager finally seemed to be given some freedom and confidence.

First Half
We had clear control of the game early on as Abe sent an effort well over in the first few minutes whilst Konno just failed to get his head on a lovely cross by Endo but we were clearly comfortable and confident, the passing was slick and there was a lot of positivity in the attack. Grampus sat off too much and this allowed Usami to turn and play a lovely cross behind their defeat but Abe was beaten to it by a defender. Taguchi with the first effort for Grampus after 12 minutes from the edge of the box which whistled wide.

AWAY v Nagoya GrampusKurata forced Narazaki into a good save following a long range effort which concluded a long passage of short, crisp passing through the midfield and attack – a bit more like the Gamba we know. A close call in the 27th minute on a correct offside decision came as Fujiharu and Usami were through on goal but both were offside. A long range free kick from Ogawa did not threaten Higashiguchi in goal. This was a bit of an attacking splurge as Matsuda also fired over with us doing well to fend them off at set-pieces.

We ended the half on the front foot with Usami forcing Narazaki into an easy save whilst we were the attacking side but could not find a breakthrough as the half ended level. We seemed comfortable at the back and sharp going forward without a cutting edge to that point. The football did look good though and thoughts would have been on getting ahead quickly after the break.

Second Half
We started as we ended with Kurata jinking his way into the box before releasing the ball to Endo and the ball came back to Shu whose effort on the edge of the area was well saved by Narazaki. Usami went down in the box but no penalty was given as he was adamant it was and his “fouler” was adamant it was not. Grampus were limited to long range efforts whilst Omori came on for Futagawa in the 57th minute.

We stopped a Grampus counter well and Kurata forced Narzaki into another decent save at his near post as we pressed for the opener and we finally got it through Hiroyuki Abe. Endo nonchalantly chipped a ball down the side for Kurata to chase and he edged closer to the box, passed to Usami who flicked behind him to Omori who went to shoot but kicked the man chasing him when swinging back, allowing the ball to come to Abe who side-footed home from 14 yards. Lovely goal, fully deserved! Grampus’ lack of pressure came back to bite them.

It should have been 2-0 3 minutes later as Kurata played in Usami and with no defenders around him he beat Narazaki but also the far post by inches – he would have been very disappointed with that. Nagai fired wide down the other end but Fujiharu looks to be getting back to his best as he got behind the Grampus defence with ease. Usami was subbed for Sato in the 75th minute and the big man first set-up Kurata who shot just wide off the bottom corner from long range and then hit the bar himself as we countered and Omori found Endo to find Sato who could not quite catch himself a break.

We made the game safe just 2 minutes later as Endo again chipped behind the defence to Omori down the left – faced with a defender, he breezed past him and Narazaki before firing home from 7 yards. It was a stunning individual goal and seemed really easy but he made it all himself. Brilliant Kotaro, just brilliant!

Kotaro OmoriGrampus pulled one back though through Tulio as Iwashita lost him at a corner and the big man fired home from just a few yards to get a simple goal. Sloppy by us as we had looked comfortable all game really and set-pieces are something we need to work on. It was too soft a goal to concede and made the final few minutes nervy ones at that. We threw on Niwa for Abe but safely made it to the end of the game in the lead to grab an important and impressive win!

Gamba Man of the Match
From the highlights I saw that showed all the chances in the game, it was easy to see that Kurata was the heartbeat of the team going forward. He made chances for the team and was very close to scoring a goal himself on several occasions – as I said after he scored against Vortis, we will be full of confidence now and I was not wrong. His movement was great, his choices were more often than not superb and it will only be a matter of time before he reaches his best again. Kotaro Omori’s substitution did change the game in our favour though as it gave us a bit more impetus and pace in the attack that did finally make the difference.

Table Standing
We shot up to 11th as we lead FC Tokyo, Nagoya Grampus and Vegalta Sendai on goal-difference, 15 points apiece. That puts us 2 points ahead of Ventforet Kofu in the relegation zone and with a win against FC Tokyo next weekend, we could well be sitting nicely in mid-table coming into the World Cup break. Let’s do it!

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

Match Preview – 10/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 13 – Nagoya Grampus v Gamba Osaka

The penultimate game in the league before the World Cup break sees us with a rare early start in a 13:00 JST kick-off against Nagoya Grampus at the Toyota Stadium. Both teams come into the game off the back of morale boosting wins as both have had to look over their shoulder rather than looking forward at the start of this season.

AWAY v Nagoya GrampusGrampus have yet to draw a game in their 12 matches so far, winning 5 and losing 7. This comes as no surprise when you see that their manager is former Gamba manager Akira Nishino who is known for his all-out attack style and not worrying too much about the defence. This speaks volumes when you see that they have had a total of 37 goals in their games, leaving Grampus in 11th on 15 points.

We got the better of the Aichi Prefecture side when we met them in 2012. In the home game, we came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Sota Nakazawa and Takahiro Futagawa bailing us out on that day but the bigger story came in the away match that saw us ruin the home side’s anniversary match, Gamba running out 5-0 winners. Leandro, Endo, Konno, Sato and Paulinho sharing the goals that day. We may need to take heart from that game to get a good result this weekend.

There are no new fresh injury worries that will have an effect on the starting eleven, even though Keisuke Iwashita did fracture his nose against Vortis and will be forced to wear a face mask in order to play. Tatsuya Uchida will still be missing mostly like, as will Kaji, Yonekura and Okazaki who all are coming to the end of their predicted period on the sidelines.

I would expect Kurata to come in for Lins as the Brazilian was just not in sync with the other guys on Tuesday and Shu will be buzzing now that he has his first goal of the season. One other potential change will see Abe return to the starting eleven after being rested slightly against Vortis but he also scored coming off the bench. Whether that will be in place of Futagawa or Omori will depend on if Futagawa can manage another long haul in quick succession. I would say Futagawa to come on and replace Omori as we can use our pace to counter attack. Other than those two changes, I see the same as last time and why not, being full of confidence following a positive result and display in midweek.

We need to realistically win this game to get away from the bottom 3 but a draw is not a bad result if we can get a win against FC Tokyo next weekend. I think our speed in the final third might well be too much for Grampus if we can prevent them from getting any decent chances. I do fancy us to take the win and use the win over Vortis as the starting point of our campaign, but you never know with our defence. Positivity is the order of the day.

Match Report – 06/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 12 – Gamba Osaka 3-0 Tokushima Vortis

We ended our 3 match losing streak by somewhat comfortably beating bottom-placed Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku in front of 12,654 paying fans that saw Gamba’s first home clean sheet in J1 since November 2011 in a win over Vegalta Sendai. The win moved us out of the bottom three and saw two players net their first goals of the season.

A couple of changes occurred following our 2-0 defeat to Yokohama F.Marinos on the weekend with Daiki Niwa dropping to the bench with Takaharu Nishino earning his J1 debut as a starter at centre-half. In midfield, Konno rejoined Endo in defensive midfield with Uchida injured whilst Abe went to the bench with Futagawa getting his 3rd start of the season. In the forward department, Usami got his first start since his injury with Akihiro Sato the one to lose out. On the bench we saw Yuto Uchida back on the bench as the other Uchida was missing.

First Half
HOME v Tokushima VortisIwashita was in the wars early on in the game with Douglas bashing the defender’s nose in what has now transpired to caused a fracture for centre-back, but he continued throughout the game nonetheless. The visitors had an early chance following a poor pass by Nishino but Eto fired high and wide from a very tight angle. What was clear was that we were far too deep with the ball and needed to squeeze the play to retain the ball easily, especially with Vortis having all their men behind the ball. Omori and Usami were the ones buzzing around, the former always taking up good positions whilst the later was not afraid to be offside when trying to run behind the high Vortis line.

It was Omori that set up our first good chance, playing a lovely ball down the left for Fujiharu to break behind but with the defence closing on him, he shot from a tight angle and forced a save from Hasegawa. Usami was also not afraid to shoot from distance whilst hitting the target. Just after 30 minutes, Omori played a couple of passes with Lins before setting the forward away into the box but his shot from a difficult angle was easily saved by Hasegawa once more.

With half time looming and Vortis still so rigid, we finally got the breakthrough and it was birthday boy Usami who netted on his starting eleven return in the 39th minute. Endo passed wide to Futagawa who returned the ball inside to Konno whose delightful flick put Fujiharu into the box behind the defence and he picked out Usami in the middle who got a touch ahead of Hasegawa with defender Lee helping the ball home. Most likely an own-goal but nobody was going to deny Usami the goal and us a lead at half time.

Second Half
Usami was involved early in the second, playing his part in 4 half chances they did not come to fruit – the start of the half was all spark and no fire – whilst Kurata replaced Lins 10 minutes into the half, the Brazilian hardly in the game and deservedly pulled early on in the half. The visitors should have been level moments later as Alex’s corner was flicked on at the near post to Hashiuchi whose header was destined to go in but Higashiguchi pulled off a stunning save to claw the ball away from the line in mid-air. This was the turning point in the game.

A few minutes later, Abe came on for Omori which I was not happy about at the time as Kotaro was once again excellent but Hiroyuki shut me up 10 minutes later by making it 2-0. The goal was all about Oh Jae-Suk’s tenacity to win a throw-in from nothing and he picked out Abe who played a lovely one-two with Futagawa before rifling the ball into the roof of the net from 7 yards. Lovely by Futagawa, the hard work from Oh was superb and the finish from Abe was clinical. Game over.

Douglas was still able to win too many headers as he was winning the aerial battle with Nishino but Higashiguchi made a fine save down to his left and was quick to the loose ball on the rebound. Oh was trying to get himself a goal down the other end but his good effort from the edge of the box was unfortunately deflected wide, whilst Usami was showing glimpses of his best by turning on the edge of the area and firing a wicked effort off the underside of the bar via a minute deflection. Usami, Kurata and a goalmouth scramble did not give us a warranted 3rd goal.

So Kurata did in the third and final minute of added time. Futagawa again pulling the strings and chipping a delightful pass for Shu to run onto and he turned inside easily with his marker slipping and coming in on his right foot he curled a beautiful shot into the far corner to earn his first goal of the season. 倉田スーパーゴール!

It was a hard-earned win and there were many positive things, such as Usami’s return, Kurata’s goal, Futagawa’s top play and Oh Jae-Suk’s impressive display once again. The season has been tough so far but we must continue like this in our final 2 games in the league before the World Cup break. Confidence and morale should be high now and we must use this to beat 2 very beatable opponents. The only way this win will be useful is to go and get good results in the next two matches.

Gamba Man of the Match
FutagawaThere were a few guys who impressed and you can see my full ratings below. If I had to pick from those guys, it would have to be Futagawa but only just. He played a part in all 3 goals and assisted 2 of them, manipulating the space Vortis left him with ease. Whilst it is only Vortis, fans have been saying that he always gets better as summer comes closer and they are not wrong going on this performance – he looked at ease during the whole game and finally started and finished one. Whether he starts against Grampus on the weekend is questionable but we saw the best of Futagawa on Tuesday and I am sure he will be useful be it from the bench or as a starter. Kudos to Oh Jae-Suk and Takashi Usami for excellent performances too!

Higashiguchi – 8
Oh Jae-Suk – 8.5
Nishino – 7
Iwashita – 7.5
Fujiharu -7.5
Endo – 7
Konno – 7
Omori – 8
Futagawa – 8.5
Lins – 5.5
Usami – 8.5
Kurata – 8 (Sub)
Abe – 8 (Sub)

Table Standing
The matchday was a strange one with Sendai, Omiya and Nagoya all winning whilst Kofu managed a draw meaning that whilst we did not make a break from the pack, we did move out of the relegation zone on goal difference as we traded places with Omiya. There are now 3 sides on 12 points and the small group ahead of us is easily caught if we can beat Nagoya and FC Tokyo next.

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

Match Preview – 06/05/2014 – J1: Match Day 12 – Gamba Osaka v Tokushima Vortis

With 3 defeats in a row, we will be looking to get to some sort of promising position when we entertain bottom-placed Tokushima Vortis at Banpaku with the kick-off time of 19:00 JST. This will be the last game played in the division on the day so knowing the other results should help motivate the players even further.

HOME v Tokushima VortisVortis have won just one game and 3 points from their opening 11 J1 games since being promoted alongside us in 2013. They have scored just 3 times and have conceded 29 in that time. Their unlikely promotion looks set to end in the most likely of relegations with the team not having enough quality to take on the powers of J1.

The two games between the sides in J2 were highly memorable ones. The first at Banpaku finished 2-0 to Gamba with Hirai and Paulinho finding the target – on a personal note, it was my first Gamba game in person and it could not have been better. As for the away tie, the game was ours from the off and even though we conceded to make it 2-1 and gave away a penalty that hit the bar at 3-1, we scored immediately after that and the match will be remembered as the one where Usami scored 4 to give us a stunning 5-1 win. The target will be to complete the double over Vortis again and getting 3 points tomorrow will be nothing more than necessary.

There is no further news on any injuries – Tatsuya Uchida did go off on a stretcher on the weekend but we have had no news on that so he should be okay. Kaji and Okazaki should be close to returning but they probably will not feature in this game.

I have decided not to follow the predicted line-ups on various sites this week and have decided to to give you my opinion on what the team would be if I were in charge. First of all, I would change Niwa for Nishino (the latter our best centre-back by far last season) as the former has been making a fair amount of mistakes in recent times, although I think Hasegawa will continue with our mistake-prone pairing of Niwa and Iwashita. I would love to Ideguchi partner Endo in defensive midfield as the youngster has talent in bundles and no fear. Further forward, I would drop Abe for his weak performances in recent times and play Omori, Lins and Kurata behind Usami – the latter definitely has to start this game! All my hope for such a line-up will probably come to nothing but some of these changes need to happen sooner rather than later because the main culprits keep getting away with the leniency shown by the manager.

Anything but 3 points will be required against Vortis. Kenta Hasegawa has to start getting results or he could soon be given the sack, particularly with comments made after the game on Saturday saying the three defeats in a row “could not be helped”. This game should be used as a stepping stone for confidence and continuity with the starting eleven until the World Cup break because we have seen nothing but changes in every game so far this season. Something has to give and the sooner the manager picks a team and sticks with it the better. A win or bust – simple as that.