Gamba produced what could arguably be described as their best performance of the year to see off Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2-1 on Sunday night, their third win in-a-row. Lining up once more in a 4-4-2 system, the Nerazzurri made just one alteration to the starting eleven from Wednesday night’s game with Nagoya, Hiroki Fujiharu coming back in for Yuya Fukuda at left wing-back. Fukuda dropped down to the bench where Takashi Usami once again found himself in a bid to give him some much needed rest.
Despite Hiroshima starting the stronger of the two teams, forcing numerous corners and free kicks in dangerous areas during the opening exchanges, Gamba found themselves 2-0 up after just 20 minutes. Captain Shu Kurata had a big hand in both goals, first smashing home an exquisite half-volley after Hayato Araki attempted to head away Kim Young-gwon’s ball over the top…watch the Youtube highlights below if you haven’t already…my words can’t do it justice. Just 4 minutes later Kurata picked up the ball inside his own half, swivelled then dinked a delicious pass over Akira Ibayashi with the outside of his right-boot, Patric raced onto it and also used the outside of his foot to guide the ball past Takuto Hayashi at his near post, the former Sanfrecce hitman made a clear point of not celebrating against his former side, but all credit to him for giving 100% for Gamba.
From this point on the home side had a mountain to climb and after licking their wounds for a good 15 minutes they finished the half strongly. Yuya Asano was denied by Higashiguchi, making his 300th J1 appearance in this game, following an incisive run while Tsukasa Morishima and Douglas Vieira both glanced headers wide from Yoshifumi Kashiwa crosses from the left side. A minute out from the break Morishima played in Asano and Higashiguchi saved well low to his right, forcing the ball for a corner. From the resulting kick, Araki headed the ball against the outside of the post and Gamba were happy to get a 15 minute breather.
Truth be told, the second half onslaught I expected from Sanfrecce never really materialised. They enjoyed lots of possession and territory but wasted a lot of balls over the top and ran down blind alleys in the centre of the park as Gamba’s defence, superbly marshalled by Gen Shoji stood firm. The visitors had just about made it to the key milestone of the second half water break when a spanner was thrown in the works. All of the energy used up in the preceding 70 minutes took its toll and a tired looking Gamba backline allowed the impressive Kashiwa time to deliver an excellent cross and second half sub Leandro Pereira found himself with a free header which he flashed across Higashiguchi and in off the post for his 8th J1 strike of the campaign. After that Sanfrecce didn’t threaten too much, Douglas and Leandro in the same side just doesn’t seem to work for them. Gamba sending on Usami for Ademilson also helped to keep possession in the Hiroshima half, eat up the clock and even come close to bagging a third. Despite a late scare or two in an excessively long additional time period (more on that later) Gamba prevailed 2-1, their first win in Hiroshima since 2016 which eased them up to 7th in the standings with multiple games in hand over Yokohama F.Marinos (5th) and Kashima (6th).
* There’s an old saying that form is temporary, but class is permanent and this year Shu Kurata is the living embodiment of that. It’s not that long since he lost his starting spot to Yuji Ono, yet zip forward a few weeks, throw in Genta Miura’s injury and Kurata is now captaining the side and and has produced great finishes against Sendai and Sanfrecce in addition to his wonderful assist for Patric’s goal.
* Kurata’s renaissance stands in contrast to the performances of Hiroshima’s Tsukasa Morishima. Although he had a couple of decent touches in open play, his set pieces were particularly wasteful and Rhayner immediately improved this when he came on. 23 year-old Morishima was one of J1’s leading assist makers in 2019 with 7 in 24 games, however, this year he has really struggled to get going. Fans of Japanese football in general will surely be hoping he gets back in the groove soon.
* Is it a rule in JLeague that no matter how much additional time is allocated, if it runs out when one team is attacking they get to finish their attack before the referee blows his whistle? The fourth official showed 3 minutes of additional time, Gamba made a late change, bringing on Shuhei Kawasaki for Kosuke Onose which would have added 30 seconds, yet we were still playing with Hiroshima in and around the Gamba box until nearly 95 minutes were up. Are officials worried that attacking team players will criticise them if they blow mid-attack? Surely the fallout of, say Sanfrecce equalising a full minute after the game was supposed to have finished should outweight that consideration? I’ve seen this happen in numerous other games and it’s bothered me, so this isn’t just a gripe because it happened in a Gamba match.
* I’m hopeful that Patric and Usami will be selected to start at home to Kashima next Saturday, just as they were in the away game in Ibaraki. Patric gave Akira Ibayashi, standing in for Yuki Nogami, all kinds of problems on Sunday and it was no co-incidence that both Gamba goals came down Sanfrecce’s right where in addition to Ibayashi, they had Shunki Higashi making his first appearance as a right wing-back. Ademilson didn’t do a whole lot to justify his selection, Usami will be raring to go next week and Patric brings a physical dimension unfound elsewhere in the squad, so it’s Usami and Patric for me.
By far the easiest decision I’ve had to make since I started doing these….Shu Kurata. A brilliant finish, superb assist and nice leadership, need I say more?
Gamba U23 Round-Up
Gamba U23 bouced back from a run of 4 successive defeats to stun promotion seeking Roasso Kumamoto at Panasonic Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Make no mistake, the Kyushu side had the chances to win this game comfortably, but they also spent an inordinate amount of time passing the ball about in front of a set Gamba defence which was brilliantly led by Ryo Shinzato, a man who knows how to put the ball in Row Z. Additionally, a high percentage of their shots were either blocked or from well outside the area while the much vaunted Kaito Taniguchi was shown that shooting every time you cut inside won’t be nearly as successful as he moves up through the leagues. This may be a positive function that both Gamba and Cerezo U23 can serve, as both perform more as inexperienced J1 teams rather than your standard J3 outfit.
For the game itself, Roasso struck the bar 3 times in the opening half, twice with looping headers that would have been easily saved had they dropped on target and the other time from a shot by impressive on-loan Tosu left-back Hiroto Ishikawa which cannoned back into the path of Shun Ito who somehow fired the rebound over. The opening 10 minutes after the re-start was an avalanche of Kumamoto pressure with few clear cut chances, Shinzato at centre-back was crucial in getting the ball out of the danger area which contrasted with the benched Jefferson Tabinas who has the tendency to cede possession to the opposition in Gamba’s defensive third.
Tatsuya Yamaguchi, a second half replacement for Keisuke Kurokawa sent a timely reminder of his presence to Gamba top-team kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto with a right-footed rocked that whizzed past Kei Uchiyama low to his left in the 58th minute. Haruto Shirai sealed things 5 minutes from time after a determined run by Shoji Toyama culminated with a pass to the right-winger who coolly shot across Uchiyama from 10 yards.
Gamba U23 Starting XI: GK: Jun Ichimori © (OA), RB: Kohei Okuno, RCB: Riku Matsuda, LCB: Ryo Shinzato (OA), LB: Keisuke Kurokawa, RCM: Ko Ise (Type 2), LCM: Ren Shibamoto, RW: Haruto Shirai, LW: Dai Tsukamoto, CF: Daisuke Takagi (OA) and Shoji Toyama.