Gamba Osaka 2-1 Kashiwa Reysol plus weekly round up

The Match

Gamba rode their luck at times but eventually dug deep enough to grind out an important 2-1 win over Kashiwa Reysol on Saturday afternoon. Our visitors, who had never previously lost at Panasonic Stadium were left to rue a series of missed chances and also a controversial refereeing decision, while Gamba captain Shu Kurata was given the perfect present to celebrate his 300th J1 appearance.

Coming into this game on the back of 6 days off Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto opted to only change his forwards for this clash with the first-choice pairing of Takashi Usami and Patric replacing Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, both of whom reverted to the bench. At the back, Gen Shoji (ankle) and Hiroki Fujiharu (concussion) were still not fit meaning the Nerazzurri’s defence once again had a slightly make-shift feel to it.

My notes for the first 30 minutes of this game can essentially be boiled down to the following, scrappy Gamba build up, Kashima counter, ball over top, came to nothing, shot off target. Truth be told this match didn’t really live up to the hype as both sets of players looked slightly off the pace with signs of wear and tear from this never-ending series of games beginning to take its toll. I was bigging myself up on Twitter for my successful predictions yesterday, but in actuality those of you who read my pre-match preview will know that I spent a lot of time analysing Reysol and my findings could basically be boiled down to, great attack, weak defence. However, in this game their backline held firm for long periods and it was their much vaunted forwards who let them down with a number of squandered opportunities.

Gamba’s main weakness this year has been in games where they’ve fallen behind early and the opening period of this half may be where Kashiwa lost their chance of earning the 3 points. The normally reliable Cristiano shot into to the side netting in the 4th minute before firing over 30 minutes later following a mix-up between Ideguchi and Yamamoto in the midfield. Ataru Esaka had headed over a Cristiano free-kick from seven yards out just three minutes prior to the Brazilian’s second opportunity, while J1’s top marksmen Michael Olunga was largely kept at arm’s length by resolute Gamba defending. At the other end a surging run from Ryu Takao saw him feed Takashi Usami, but he could only shoot straight at Kim from the edge of the area. Patric wasted Gamba’s best chance of the half as he tried to cushion a beautifully weighted Kurata cross into the bottom corner but fluffed his lines, so it was 0-0 at the break.

The deadlock was broken in somewhat controversial fashion 7 minutes into the second half. An aimless high kick into the middle of the field by a Kashiwa defender was nicely controlled by Kosuke Onose who played a neat one-two with Patric and unleashed a shot from a good 25-yards out. Kashiwa’s normally reliable South Korean stopper Kim Seung-gyu seemed to get his hands tangled and was barely able to claw away what should have been a regulation save for a corner. Usami’s set piece flew into the box and Kim challenged Patric for the ball, spilled it into his own net and the goal was given somewhat to my surprise and also the dismay of the Kashiwa players (more on this decision below). After that Gamba had a decent spell with Kurata heavily involved and substitute Ademilson looking sharp. With 10 minutes to go though, Kashiwa would have felt justice was served when they got their equaliser. Another aimless clearance high into the air, this time by Gamba was headed into Esaka’s path by Cristiano. J1’s leading assist maker then volleyed through for the league’s top scorer Olunga to slip his 23rd goal of an incredible campaign beneath Higashiguchi.

Reysol had the momentum after that, however, they were stunned in the 89th minute when Kurata played in Ademilson who took two touches with his right foot on the edge of the box before unleashing a powerful effort with his left which flew past Kim low to his right and sent the Gamba faithful into raptures. The Brazilian’s 6th goal of the campaign and by far the best. There was still time for Cristiano to test Higashiguchi, but Gamba’s number 1 was equal to the task and his save ensured the home side extended their unbeaten run to 9 matches. Defeats for both Cerezo and FC Tokyo made it an all round good day for everyone involved with the club.

Talking Points

* VAR – I’m broadly in favour of technology coming into football and there has been a lot of focus lately on the awarding and non-awarding of penalties. I’m no fan of the current handball laws which basically incentivise teams to get the ball in their opponent’s defensive third then just whack it into the box and hope it hits someone’s hand. VAR may give us more consistent decisions, but if the laws remain the way they are then there will still be a lot of disagreement.
Secondly, and the main reason I’m talking about VAR, I want to discuss Kim’s ‘own goal’ and also Ryo Shinzato’s effort that was ruled out in the match between these two back in February. If I were a Kashiwa supporter I’d be very disappointed to lose a goal like they did yesterday and you’d likely find me ranting about it in my blog if it happened to Gamba. With that said, I can see an argument for the goal to stand and the more I’ve watched it, the less I thought it was a foul. Granted it would have been given as such every day of the week in Europe and no-one wants to see 90kg defenders charging ‘keepers at corners, but that’s hardly what happened here. Likewise with the Shinzato incident, logical arguments could be made in either direction. One could certainly say that if an attacking player is standing in the 6 yard-box and the ball travels into the goal through his legs then he is most definitely affecting play. However, what if it is also clear that the goalkeeper had no chance of saving it regardless of the player’s position? I’m trying to be as neutral as possible even though both incidents involve Gamba and I hope you can see my point that VAR won’t stop arguments from breaking out over such issues.
* Feigning head injuries – The guys over at J-Talk Extra Time did a good piece on this last year, I believe it was the Renofa Yamaguchi goalkeeper who got under their skin. There was a collision in the 57th minute of this game when Kashiwa’s Hayato Nakama and Kosuke Onose went in physically on each other resulting in a Reysol free-kick. So far, so good, but in the aftermath Nakama held the top of his head while replays clearly showed contact was made with his upper arm. This is the second time I’ve seen this kind of incident this season, Urawa’s Leonardo after a clash with Kawasaki’s Jesiel was the other, and I wasn’t impressed on either occasion. In fairness, neither player particularly milked it and none of their team-mates joined in to call for a red-card etc, but I’d like to point out another situation in the Osaka U23 derby. Cerezo defender Ryuya Nishio was struck flush in the face by a powerful drive and somehow managed to stagger to his feet to guard against the subsequent Gamba attack. Further viewing revealed that he had indeed received a strong blow to the head that required treatment (he was able to play on after the physio looked at him), but with head injuries, a quick assessment is necessary and feigning head knocks creates a situation where it’s more difficult for officials to work out what’s real and what’s fake. The referees have been in the firing line a lot recently, but players have their part to play in raising on-field behavioural standards too. There have been another couple of incidents of unsporting conduct that have irritated me recently and I may look at them in detail in future columns. Please let me know what you think.

Gamba U23 Review

Gamba and Cerezo played out an entertaining 1-1 draw in the sunshine at Nagai Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With the disbansion of both sides at the end of the current season this was the final time fans could enjoy this fixture. After 20 minutes of near total Gamba domination they were stunned when Shota Fujio, who of course memorably scored against Urawa in J1 a few weeks back curled in a lovely shot low to Kei Ishikawa’s right from the edge of the box. He nearly repeated the dose a few minutes later, but in general Gamba had the better of the opening stanza. Some of their playing out from the back would have given footballing traditionalists like Tony Pulis or Sam Allardyce palpitations and there was an annoying tendency to get caught offside, but they could look ahead to the second half in positive fashion.

High School 3rd grader Ko Ise replaced overage player Daisuke Takagi at half-time and repaid his coach Hitoshi Morishita’s faith 14 minutes later with a controlled finish from the edge of the box after Keisuke Kurokawa’s cross from the left was only partially cleared. The impressive Kurokawa then sent in another beauty which was just out of the reach of Shoji Toyama a minute later before Cerezo began to come into things a bit more after replacing the ineffectual 191cm forward Pierce Waring. Attacker Fujio looked a cut above of the rest while team-mates Nagi Matsumoto (MF) and Ryuya Nishio (DF) also looked the part. Both sides huffed and puffed, Cerezo even hit the woodwork, but a probably fair 1-1 was the final outcome. Gamba sit 12th in the standings while Cerezo remain bottom, both teams have 11 games remaining.


Oita Trinita 0-1 Gamba Osaka Plus 2020 Squad Rundown

It wasn’t pretty, but Gamba scrapped their way to a 1-0 win at Oita yesterday which extended their unbeaten run to 8 games. Gen Shoji sat this one out as we wait for news on his ankle injury, while Hiroki Fujiharu was still not back from a concussion suffered in the first half of the match against Tosu 2 weeks ago. Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made 3 changes to the starting eleven for this, the 5th of 5 games inside a hectic 15 day period. Shunya Suganuma came in for the injured Shoji, while the forward pair was once again rotated, Ademilson and Kazuma Watanabe, the duo who tormented Tosu on the Nerazzurri’s previous trip to Kyushu started with Patric and Takashi Usami on the bench.

The first half was a rather forgettable affair, Gamba were understandably a little sluggish following their recent exertions while Trinita pressed and harassed the men from Suita well, forcing a series of turnovers, however, they were never able to put a series of good passages of play together. There were too many instances of poor control, aimless crossfield balls and inaccurate crosses to really build any sustained pressure on Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Just after the water break Gamba sparked into life and nice play down the right involving Kosuke Onose and Ryu Takao saw the ball cut back, via several deflections, to Watanabe who in turn fed strike partner Ademilson. The Brazilian’s shot looked to be goalbound, but unfortunately struck the arm of his skipper Shu Kurata and hence was rightly disallowed. Although the correct decision was reached, this incident did seem to bring about a more cautious approach in Oita’s play as if they now recognised how dangerous Gamba could be. Ademilson stung the palms of home ‘keeper Kim Myung-gun, whose distribution was at times quite ropey in this game, with a shot on the turn from the edge of the area after a powerful Takao run, however, the referee was the star attraction of the second half of the first period. First, surely to Alan Gibson’s delight, he gave a foul throw against Oita on the half hour mark, he did balance things up though by bizarrely allowing a Trinita player to slide in and block a quickly taken Gamba free-kick from what surely must have been 3 yards away at most.

Patric came on for Watanabe at half-time and Oita seemed to go into full deer in the headlights mode at the thought of squaring off against a powerful foreigner, something Gamba are prone to do [Exhibit A: Olunga, Michael]. The big Brazilian’s introduction brought about a much more positive start to the half from the visitors, however, between the 55th and 65th minutes Trinita had their best spell of the game and really should have taken the lead from at least one of the three excellent chances they created. First, former Gamba-man Tatsuya Tanaka rounded Higashiguchi and had his effort cleared off the line after the referee’s assistant had initially caused confusion by incorrectly waving for offside. I didn’t really feel any sense of relief as I thought it wouldn’t have counted anyway, but when the referee awarded Oita a corner I saw how fortunate Gamba had been. Four minutes later, nice combination play between Kohei Isa and Kazushi Mitsuhira set up Tanaka but Higashiguchi came out well to smother his shot from 10 yards. Finally, four minutes after that, Trinita won three corners in a row with the third one headed wide by an unmarked Kento Haneda (surprisingly this was the only one of the 3 chances that made the DAZN highlights).

To use some J-Talk Podcast terminology, Oita were made to pay for their profligacy shortly after. Takashi Usami played a delicious through ball to the onrushing Takao, the EPL’s VAR would probably have flagged the full-back offside, but as it was he was free to put in a cross which was turned out for a corner by the home side’s captain Yoshinori Suzuki. Usami stepped up and put it on a plate for Patric, who outjumped Ryosuke Tone and Kento Haneda to power a header low into Mun’s bottom right corner, 1-0 Gamba and we know what happens when they take the lead in 2020, right?

Oita made a quadruple switch on 82 minutes with forwards, Kei Chinen, Yuya Takazawa, shadow player Naoki Nomura and holding midfielder Toshio Shimakawa entering the fray. In a similar vein to the match at home to Kashima a few weeks back, making a lot of changes in a short space of time hindered rather than helped our opponents. Chinen headed wide and Shimakawa volleyed into the side netting, but that was as close as Trinita came. Young Dai Tsukamoto made his J1 debut very late in proceedings and defeats for both Nagoya and FC Tokyo made this a very happy Sunday for all those connected with Gamba who are now up to 4th in the standings.

Gamba MVP

I know I bigged up Ryu Takao in the preview, but I was initially a bit disappointed with his display. Having watched the highlights and heard the views of others on Twitter I have changed my mind slightly. However, I’m going to choose Kim Young-gwon as I felt he was an absolute rock yesterday. Minus Genta Miura and Gen Shoji, the experienced Kim really stepped up and marshalled the defence brilliantly, his distribution, which has been shaky at times this year, was excellent, so I have no qualms about giving him this award.

Some inclement weather in Osaka today put the dampeners on my hiking trip, so I thought I’d take a look at how every member of Gamba’s squad has performed so far this season.

#1 Masaaki Higashiguchi – Shot-stopping has been superb all year, must be the form ‘keeper in J1 along with Mitch Langerak. His distribution is his weak point a times, but I’ve been more than happy with his performances.

#3 Gen Shoji – Has grown better and better since returning from injury, I rate him as our best centre-back. Hopefully his latest ankle problem won’t keep him out for too long.

#4 Hiroki Fujiharu – A little bit up and down from him this year and he now faces a real fight for his spot from Yuya Fukuda, 11 years his junior. Mistakes against Yokohama FC and FC Tokyo have been balanced out by a lot of good energetic performances down the left-flank in the draining summer heat.

#5 Genta Miura – Honestly he’s never been my favourite player to pull on a Gamba shirt, but he was generally quite competent before getting injured. I had him at 2 goals scored and 2.5 directly responsible for us conceding before he got injured during one of his best games, against Sapporo. Will be interesting to see where he fits into a 4-4-2 when everyone is fit.

#8 Kosuke Onose – After a wonderful year and half since joining from Yamaguchi, it’s gone a bit flat for him this term. He’s not been poor, rather he’s not really contributed in a way Gamba fans would have hoped, whether this is down to fatigue, a niggling injury, or something else, I don’t know.

#9 Ademilson – His goal and assist numbers are there, but he’s looked less sharp than last season. A couple of minor injuries in pre-season and just after the league’s re-start have perhaps hindered him and at the moment Patric and Usami seems to be our best strike partnership.

#10 Shu Kurata – A strange campaign from him, he’d actually lost his place to Yuji Ono before he got injured, but he’s now captaining the side in Miura’s absence. Beautiful goals away to Sendai and Hiroshima plus a couple of nice assists have been his highlights, but it looks like this year’s tough schedule has taken a toll on him.

#11 Yuji Ono – I didn’t expect much when we signed him, but he was a revelation in his midfield role before damaging knee ligaments. I hope he can come back strong again next year.

#13 Shunya Suganuma – Has only really played recently due to Miura and Shoji’s injuries plus the heavy schedule. Realistically shouldn’t be playing regularly for a top half J1 side, but he seems content to be a squad member and serves as useful backup.

#14 Yuya Fukuda – Finally getting a run in the team thanks to injuries elsewhere. He’s almost a victim of his own versatility as Miyamoto keeps switching his position. It was tough for him earlier in the campaign when he was only playing every 3rd/4th game, but now he’s getting more regular game time we can see his improvement.

#15 Yosuke Ideguchi – Has to be a strong contender for Gamba’s MVP this year. His work-rate, closing down and range of passing are immense. He’s started all but one J1 game in 2020 and of course banged in that memorable volley at home to Urawa.

#16 Jun Ichimori – Former Okayama number 1, signed to be our backup before dislocating his shoulder and finding himself in J3 as an overage player with the U23s. All this while our backup from last season Mizuki Hayashi is third choice at 19th in J2 Yamaguchi. The JLeague goalkeeping merry-go-round, eh?

#17 Ryo Shinzato – Signed on loan from Iwata to be back up to the back up centre-halves. I believe Scottish comedian Kevin Bridges put it better by saying, “you’re the guy who makes the tea for the guy who makes the coffee.” That said, I think he’s done alright the 2 times I’ve seen him play for the top team and once in J3.

#18 Patric – Has really come onto a game as the season has developed and offers something that none of our other forwards can provide. A pleasant surprise this campaign as I feared he may have been over-the-hill based on last year’s displays.

#19 Kim Young-gwon – A very consistent performer whose ability to defend is not in question. A big fan of the physical side of the game and some of the dark arts of defending which may make him unpopular with opponents (perhaps a Brazilian forward who has been vocal on Twitter lately lol). His distribution can be his greatest strength and also his biggest weakness, but overall I’m a fan.

#20 Daisuke Takagi – I think I can just lift my comments from last year’s player rundown about him… what was the purpose of his signing? He’s always had at least 2 better players ahead of him in any position he can play, he isn’t that young in footballing terms and aside from a lovely assist the other week, he hasn’t really stood out playing in J3.

#21 Shinya Yajima – A pretty decent season until his sprained ankle saw him lose his place to Yuki Yamamoto. Has gone a bit missing in some of the tougher games and will surely face more competition once Leo Takae returns from Machida, but a very useful player to have in the squad.

#24 Keisuke Kurokawa – Hasn’t featured much for the first team, but has definitely grown with the U23’s in J3. More of a left-back than Fukuda and I’d love to see him get a run in the J1 side at some point.

#25 Kei Ishikawa – Seems to have overtaken Ichimori to be Higashiguchi’s backup. Based on the couple of times I saw him play for the U23s, he looks like a good shot-stopper, but the thought of seeing his distribution in the J1 side gives me nightmares.

#26 Kohei Okuno – Central midfielder who sometimes gets punted to right-back or centre-back by the U23s when no-one else is available. Probably seen as a younger, better version of Takahiro Ko by the Gamba hierarchy.

#27 Ryu Takao – Surely the most improved player in the squad this year, either when played as a right-sided centre-back or in his favoured right-back role. Has outshone two similar players in Ryosuke Shindo and Tomoki Iwata already this season, are international honours in the near future totally out of the question?

#28 Jefferson Tabinas – Basically a Hail Mary loan signing from Kawasaki as we had no-one else to play centre-back in J3. He’s done better than expected, but I always judge him based on the fact he’s on loan from Frontale, as in reality he often looks more like a JFL player.

#29 Yuki Yamamoto – Takao’s former team-mate at Kwansei Gakuin who has come on in spades since breaking into the team due to Yajima’s injury. Now seems to be first choice alongside Ideguchi and has bagged a couple of nice goals too, which always helps.

#30 Dai Tsukamoto – The least famous of Gamba’s trident of prodigious youngsters along with Kawasaki and Toyama (is there also a city called Tsukamoto in Japan? – that would probably help with giving them a collective nickname). He’s really developed physically this year, though he will need to work on his end product if he wants to have a long J1 career, a bit like Fukuda he gets moved around too much due to his versatility.

#31 Haruki Saruta – Signed on loan from Kashiwa so we could loan our young goalies out. Got injured pre-lockdown, came back not fully fit and dropped a clanger against Sanuki on the opening day, disappeared for a bit after that, then came back and conceded five at YSCC and hasn’t been seen since.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – His next game in J3 will be his 100th, the first Gamba U23 player to reach that milestone. Was injured at the start of the year, but he’s improved the team so much since his return. I don’t know why he can’t get into the top team, he might be someone that @kanzawadreamin would like to have on loan at Zweigen next year.

#33 Takashi Usami – Excellent all round play, but did look exhausted at times prior to being given a rest. Often tasked with both scoring and setting up chances, the re-emergence of Patric has definitely helped him.

#34 Shuhei Kawasaki – I’m really happy with his development in his first year as a pro. He’s already too good to be playing in J3 and I liked what I saw the one time he was given extended playing time in J1, away to Tosu.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – A real work-horse for the U23s who despite his diminutive size spent the first half of the season as a left-sided centre-back. A really good player who will probably find himself crowded out by the traffic ahead of him at left-back, so could be an option for Renofa etc to look at for a loan next year (Yamaguchi sign Yamaguchi has a nice ring to it).

#36 Riku Matsuda – Broke his foot during the league’s layoff and came back not looking fully fit for the U23s. Got briefly promoted to the J1 side and was booked within a minute for clattering into the back of Iniesta, that’s certainly one to tell the grandkids about. Hasn’t looked as sharp as he did last year and the switch from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2 doesn’t really help him, may go out on loan next season.

#37 Haruto Shirai – Extremely pacey player who has now had about 3 niggling injuries this season. Lacks the consistency to crack the J1 squad, but his speed, control and distribution should see him forge a decent lower league career.

#38 Shoji Toyama – Has kept banging them in for the U23s and also netted a brace against Shonan in the Levain Cup. Hopefully we can keep hold of him for a bit to allow him to develop before the inevitable move to Europe.

#39 Kazuma Watanabe – Another pleasant surprise this season and is actually the team’s top scorer. Now that he’s got his 100 J1 goals, I wonder if there’s a chance he might return to his native Nagasaki and join V-Varen next year, as despite being an excellent squad member, the emergence of Toyama and potential return of Ichimi could mean the writing is on the wall for him at Gamba.

#40 Shin Won-ho – Joined after graduating high school in Korea, but unable to get in the U23 side ahead of several Japanese high schoolers on type 2 contracts which can’t be a great sign.

#50 Lee Yunoh – Signed on loan to replace our injured on loan U23 ‘keeper Saruta, he himself got injured soon after (what are we doing in training? that’s 3 goalkeeping injuries this year!). Has played once so far where he basically dropped the ball in the net against Kataller Toyama and looked very shaky in everything else he did.

I hope you all enjoyed that, please remember to check out my match preview for the game with Kashiwa Reysol which should be live on Thursday.


Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-2 Gamba Osaka Review and Weekly Round-Up

The Match

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.

Gamba MVP

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.


Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo 0-1 Gamba Osaka and Weekly Round-Up

The Match

Not one that will live long in the memory, as DAZN’s sub 5 minute highlights package will attest to, but the three points were all that mattered from a Gamba perspective. This victory was the Nerazzurri’s fifth on the road in 2020 which means they’ve already equalled 2019’s total after only 8 matches.

Kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto responded to his side’s recent slump in form by switching to a 4-4-2 formation for the first time since the 2-1 win at Shimizu back in round 4 and he was rewarded with the team’s first clean sheet in 9 matches. Hiroki Fujiharu, Kim Young-gwon and Ademilson came in for Yuya Fukuda, Gen Shoji and Kazuma Watanabe who all found themselves on the bench.

In my pre-match preview I mistakenly assumed this clash would take place at the Sapporo Dome when in fact it was scheduled for Consadole’s second home, Atsubetsu Stadium. The thick grass and bumpy surface was more akin to what I’ve seen the U23s play on in places such as Akita and Toyama and greatly hindered the match as a spectacle.

Gamba threatened early with captain Genta Miura flashing a header just over from Takashi Usami’s corner before Usami and Ademilson both fluffed their lines, heading Kosuke Onose crosses wide from decent areas. Sapporo, who looked like a shadow of the side that played with such attacking verve against Urawa and Tosu in the past week, rarely threatened Masaaki Higashiguchi’s goal. Despite Shunta Tanaka and the omnipresent Takuma Arano looking sharp, Yoshiaki Komai’s dragged shot wide was as close as they came in the opening period.

The second stanza continued in much the same way as the first with both teams sharing spells of possession and penetrating the opposition’s final third, but not really looking likely to score once they got there. Gamba suffered a blow in the 72nd minute when Miura, an ever-present this year, went down with what looked like a leg muscle injury. Gen Shoji took his place with Shu Kurata taking over the captain’s armband, Endo and Watanabe also entered the fray in a triple change. Watanabe took just 4 minutes to make his mark by scoring his 3rd goal off the bench in 2020. Following a Sapporo corner, Kurata and Endo worked the ball out to the left flank where Ryu Takao (only he knows why he was there) was charging. The normally right-sided Kwansei Gakuin graduate fed Hiroki Fujiharu whose pinpoint cross was met by Watanabe. Consadole ‘keeper Takanori Sugeno brilliantly tipped the header onto his right-hand post, but the ball rebounded for King Kazu who made no mistake. Despite huffing and puffing for the remainder of the game, Sapporo had ultimately run out of steam due to their hectic schedule and it finished 1-0 to Gamba.


* Not mentioned above, but Gamba had strong claims for a penalty against Sapporo’s stand-in skipper Arano who handled inside his own box in the 45th minute, personally I’m not convinced it was a spot kick. There was also another controversial incident at the end of the Cerezo Osaka vs Kashima Antlers game where Leo Silva’s arm made contact with a goal-bound effort, but no penalty was awarded. My question is, were either of these handballs any less of a penalty than the ones given against Kim Young-gwon (vs FC Tokyo) or Yuki Soma (Nagoya vs Sapporo)? FC Tokyo’s Leandro was in the headlines this week after having a moan on Twitter about inconsistent officiating following a couple of decisions against his side in their 3-2 home loss to Oita on Wednesday. I’m sure most JLeague fans could get behind the crux of his argument, though perhaps not the one-eyed nature of it. For me, he would have done well to acknowledge that his side have both gained and lost as a result of poor refereeing this year, the Kim and Leo Silva incidents above were chosen for a reason. What do you think?
* Following the switch to 4-4-2 and the potential loss of Miura at the back, Gamba have a few selection quandaries ahead of a tough week of games with Nagoya (home – Wednesday) and Hiroshima (away – Sunday) looming large on the horizon. Keisuke Kurokawa has been in sparkling form for the U23s in their past 2 games in J3, he, unlike, Yuya Fukuda, is a left-back in a 4-4-2 system, it would be good to see the former Kansai University star get a top team start in the near future. Speaking of Fukuda, it was interesting to note that he replaced Shu Kurata in the 89th minute on Saturday and took over the left central-midfield position, could this be a realistic option going forward with no Yuji Ono for the rest of 2020?
* Last year I raved about Consadole Sapporo defender Ryosuke Shindo, but echoing Sam Robson on the J-Talk Podcast, I agree that he seems to have gone off the boil this year. Ryu Takao has really grown and has performed well at right-centre back, right-back and right wing-back this season, would I be going out on a limb by saying that I now rate Takao as the better prospect? Both were born within 5 months of each other and play the same position, have I over-reacted to a short-spell of form or is the Gamba man now the superior player?
* Finally, a quick question for any Sapporo fans who may be reading. Are ticket prices for games at Sapporo Dome and Atsubetsu Stadium comparable? The poor quality playing surface and dated facilities at Atsubetsu would surely call for some kind of discount for the paying public, no?

Gamba MVP

Kosuke Onose was Gamba’s main attacking weapon in the first half and was unlucky not to bag an assist or two, but I’m going to award this to someone I’ve not shied away from criticising in the past, Genta Miura. After looking leggy in the past couple of matches, the Japan international was back to his best on Saturday. He dealt with the physical and aerial threat of first Jay, and later, briefly, Douglas Oliveira, before having to leave the field early. Hopefully his substitution was just a precaution and he’ll be back soon.

Under 23 Round Up

Gamba’s U23 side produced a sloppy defensive display to go down 3-2 to Vanraure Hachinohe on Saturday night. Goals at the start of both halves from Yosuke Kamigata and Taichi Nakamura meant Gamba were fighting an uphill battle for most of the game. Keisuke Kurokawa, once again the team’s best player cancelled out Hachinohe’s opener after 13 minutes following good play down the right from Haruto Shirai. Jiro Nakamura, making his first J3 appearance of 2020 as a second-half replacement then forced an own goal after an incisive run and cross in the 76th minute. However, Gamba were carved open once again just 8 minutes later, and another substitute, Taisuke Akiyoshi won the match for the Tohoku side with a fine finish. This was their first ever win over Gamba U23 after 2 draws in 2019 and also the first time they’d scored more than twice in a game this year.

Gamba U23 line-up: GK: Ichimori, RCB: Matsuda, CB: Tabinas ©, LCB: Yamaguchi, RWB: Shirai, RCM: Ise (Type 2), DM: Okuno, LCM: Shibamoto, LWB: Kurokawa, CF: Tsukamoto and Toyama.

Next Match: Tuesday 22 September vs Iwate Grulla Morioka (a) Kick Off: 13:00


Gamba Osaka 0-1 Shonan Bellmare and Weekly Round-up

The Match

Have you ever seen a movie trailer and thought, this looks like 100 other films I’ve seen? Well, think of every football match you’ve ever watched where the underdog upsets the favourite by a score of 1-0 and you’ve just imagined the Gamba vs Shonan game from last night.

Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes to his starting lineup ahead of this clash with Ryu Takao, Yuya Fukuda and Kazuma Watanabe coming in for Kim Young-gwon (not in the squad – rested?), Hiroki Fujiharu and Ademilson (both on the bench). Bellmare made two alterations with Daiki Tomii replacing the ineligible Kosei Tani and Temma Matsuda, normally a midfielder, playing up top with the veteran Naoki Ishihara, in place of on-loan Japan youth international Yuto Iwasaki.

The first half began rather brightly with Shonan in surprisingly expansive mood perhaps inspired by the better atmosphere inside Panasonic Stadium now that rhythmic clapping is once again allowed. A couple of slack passes out of defence from Miura and Shoji inside the opening 10 minutes allowed Bellmare chances to break, but their shots didn’t trouble Higashiguchi while Gamba struggled for fluency in their attacks, the partnership between Usami and Watanabe certainly looks in need of fine tuning. A pretty physical first stanza did have bright sparks, generally these were provided down the Gamba flanks by Takao and Fukuda, but they were unable to find team-mates with a killer pass and we went into half-time goalless.

The second period followed a similar pattern to the first with Shonan starting sharply without ever really looking too dangerous, before Gamba slowly took over possession and territory, but found a multitude of bodies blocking their path to goal. With a Gamba dominated 0-0 looking the most likely outcome, Bellmare struck a sucker punch in the 75th minute. A neat cross from deep by Daiki Kaneko (more on him later) evaded a tired looking Gamba central defence and found Kazunari Ohno who’d advanced from the back to supply a striker’s finish that flew high into the net.

Gamba went into all out attack mode in the final 15 minutes with Patric, Ademilson, Usami and Kawasaki all on the field together. Shonan threw bodies in the way to block all the shots that came their way and the closest Gamba came was a placed effort from Usami which went just wide and when Ademilson rattled the bar from distance in additional time after a nice lay-off from young Kawasaki. It was not to be and Shonan notched their first away win of 2020 and their first ever victory in Suita under their current guise. Gamba, on the other hand, have now lost 5 of their opening 8 home games this year and after losing only once in their first 7 league fixtures have now tasted defeat 5 times in the past 8. How will Miyamoto deal with this mini-crisis?


* Interesting to note that it was Gen Shoji, not captain Genta Miura, giving the pre-match pep-talk in the team huddle. Is Miura captain in name only with Shoji the one really pulling the strings? Is this causing friction at the back and resulting in poor performances? Have I become a tabloid journalist?
* Rotation, Rotation, Rotation – I fully understand that even though this year is crazy in many ways managers will want to finish as high up the league as possible in order to keep their jobs. However, I feel we should really be rotating a bit more than we are. Miura is clearly exhausted having started every league game and only being subbed once, Usami looks like he’s playing at 50% capacity most of the time and I’ve no idea how Ideguchi keeps going, but I’m dreading him getting injured.
* I think I watched too much JLeague yesterday, I also took in Sapporo (our next opponents) vs Urawa and the first half of Yokohama FC (no Ichimi or Matsuo!) vs Nagoya, so I ended up dreaming that Genta Miura joined Kawasaki, if that does happen I’ll consider it to be my first ever blog exclusive.
* I think ‘grounder ball’ has overtaken ‘middle shoot’ and ‘heading shoot’ as the most irritating thing the DAZN commentators say in a game. Also a shout out to the fact they seemed to be getting sponsored to say that it was Yuki Yamamoto’s third start in-a-row every time he touched the ball in the first half.
* I really enjoyed the chat I had after the game on Twitter, for the views of other English speaking Gamba fans let me point you in the direction of that…

Gamba MVP

There were shouts from some quarters for this to be given to Ryu Takao or Yuya Fukuda and I agree that they performed better than expected and are definitely worthy of future selection, however, I’m going to hand it to Kosuke Onose as I feel he was excellent. He was able to beat his opponent Hirokazu Ishihara on a number of occasions and put quality into the box, unfortunately on this day it didn’t come off, but I salute his efforts, his composure and control.

From the Scout’s Office – Daiki Kaneko

Those of you who checked out my match preview will know that I was particularly interested in watching Kaneko against Gamba. The 22 year-old Tokyo native didn’t disappoint, providing the assist for the winning goal in addition to protecting his backline, blocking shots and spraying some neat passes about.

He comes with a good pedigree having attended Funabashi Municipal High School in Chiba where he played alongside Gamba’s Takahiro Ko, future Shonan team-mate Daiki Sugioka, Tosu’s Teruki Hara and Sendai’s Takumi Mase amongst others. From there he moved to Kanagawa University in Yokohama, but unusually for a Japanese athlete, he dropped out of college after his first year to turn pro with then newly-promoted Shonan. After initially making a name for himself in Bellmare’s epic 2018 Levain Cup winning run, playing nine times and scoring twice, he became more of a regular in the league last year. This time out he missed the J1 opener with Urawa back in February, was an unused sub in the first match after the restart at home to Sendai, but since then he has been in the starting eleven for all but one league match, completing the full 90 minutes in each of his 12 starts.

With a good build, a nice range of passing, as well as the ability to snuff out danger through good positioning, Kaneko will surely be on the radar of potential suitors. Shonan’s formation is identical to Gamba’s, so he would have no issues transitioning over, though FC Tokyo, in particular, might also be interested as they currently have the more attack minded Yojiro Takahagi playing in Kaneko’s role.

U23 Round-up

Without their attacking trident of Shoji Toyama, Dai Tsukamoto and Shuhei Kawasaki, Gamba U23 went down to a battling 1-0 loss at Kataller Toyama on Saturday night. Toyama have proven to be one of the toughest nuts for Gamba to crack in their brief J3 history as this was Kataller’s 7th win in 9 encounters.

Owing to a tough work schedule I only caught the second-half of this match then watched the DAZN highlights later. For any of you confused by the TV line-up graphic and also Keishi Murakami (a wing-back/ full-back) being listed as a forward on the JLeague website (why do they do that?), Gamba’s formation was; Yu Fukumoto in goals, 3 centre-backs (right to left) Riku Matsuda, Jefferson Tabinas ©, Tatsuya Yamaguchi, an upside-down midfield triangle with each player taking turns at the base, I believe at the start Kohei Okuno was in the anchor role with Ko Ise on the right and Ren Shibamoto on the left, Keishi Murakami was right wing-back and the impressive Keisuke Kurokawa was on the left with Haruto Shirai and Ryusei Sugano in attack.

From the highlights it seemed Toyama had the better of the first half and were rewarded with an unfortunate, from a Gamba perspective, comedy own goal from Yamaguchi, though he may look to blame the bumpy playing surface. The U23s were in control for much of the second half, but looked toothless shorn of Toyama up-front, a triple-chance sparked by Ryusei Sugano’s header off the bar that was then followed up by a header cleared off the line and finally a decent stop by Kataller ‘keeper Hiroki Oka was as close as they came. They drop a place in the standings and currently sit 13th with 15 points from as many games. Next up a home clash with 11th placed Vanraure Hachinohe at Panasonic Stadium on Saturday.


Gamba Osaka 1-3 FC Tokyo 29 August 2020 and more

Gamba went down 3-1 at home to FC Tokyo on Saturday, their fourth league defeat of the year at Panasonic Stadium and second in a row. The result of the game, which was not without controversy, sees the Nerrazzuri slip down to 8th in the J1 standings.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto made three changes from the 1-1 draw at Kashima Antlers. Ademilson replaced Patric in a surprising move as FC Tokyo have shown weakness against crossed balls all year. Elsewhere Hiroki Fujiharu re-took his starting spot from Yuya Fukuda down the left and Ryu Takao started at right-wing back presumably in a bid to thwart Tokyo’s lethal Brazilian winger Leandro. Takao’s inclusion brought about a midfield re-shuffle which saw Ideguchi sit at the base with Kosuke Onose on his right and Shinya Yajima to the left.

Questionable officiating would be a theme of this game and it started as early as the fourth minute when Leandro appeared to clearly dribble the ball over the dead ball line before cutting back to team-mate Arthur Silva who blasted wildly over from 20 metres out. Gamba then broke up the other end and nice play from Usami teed up Ademilson who fired wide from the edge of the box. In an end-to-end start it was Tokyo who drew first blood from a goal similar to those conceded in the previous home game with Urawa. Gen Shoji’s ball out of defence was well intercepted by Shuto Abe and the ricochet off his leg played in the speedy Kensuke Nagai. Genta Miura was able to throw out a foot and deflect the ball towards his ‘keeper Higashiguchi. A 50-50 collision ensued and the ball broke to Diego Oliveira who coolly stroked home a left-footed shot from well outside the area.

This goal wreaked havoc with Gamba’s game plan of getting ahead early and sitting back with the aim of grabbing a second on the counter. Indeed it was the visitors who outdid Gamba in this respect, earning fouls, rolling around and generally wasting as much time as possible. Gamba huffed and puffed, but often found themselves running down blind alleys as Tokyo’s defence and midfield proved to be extremely adept at snuffing out pressure, Akihiro Hayashi’s excellent point blank stop from Takao’s shot was the only decent effort of note. At the other end the Gasmen broke and Nagai’s shot appeared to be touched wide by Higashiguchi, but a goal kick was given, much to the striker’s bewilderment.

Gamba got themselves back in the game two minutes from the interval. Patient build-up in midfield culminated in a quick pass from Ideguchi to Ademilson, the Brazilian laid it off to Usami first touch and Gamba’s talisman took a second to get the ball out of his feet before powering in a lovely right-footed shot which Hayashi in the Tokyo goal could only parry into his left hand corner. It should have been 2-1 in the 4th minute (double any other game we’ve played this season) of additional time. Some, of a Gamba persuasion, would argue it would be karma for Yojiro Takahagi’s minutes of rolling on the ground, if his team were to concede so late on in the half. As it turned out the linesman ruled out Fujiharu’s legitimate strike, on what basis I don’t know, as Hotaka Nakamura and at least one other Tokyo defender were playing him onside. It was not to be and despite Gamba protests it was 1-1 at half-time.

More poor officiating followed in the second half as the referee appeared to cancel out one bad decision to award a Tokyo free kick for a ‘foul’ on Kensuke Nagai, with an equally bizarre one to not give the same player the benefit of the doubt minutes later. After that the game settled down a touch with both teams having chances on the break but overall things remained tight.

The match swung decisively on a penalty decision for handball against Kim Young-gwon in the 72nd minute, I’ll cover my views on this type of award in the analysis section below. Again Gamba protests fell on deaf ears and Leandro stepped up, placed his penalty low to the left, Higashiguchi got a glove on it but couldn’t keep it out and the visitors went ahead.

Gamba pressed for an equaliser and Hayashi saved well from sub Kazuma Watanabe’s effort. However, Tokyo looked dangerous on the break and were able to take advantage of the spaces left open by Gamba’s gung-ho approach. Substitute Adailton re-paid coach Kenta Hasegawa not long after coming on as he fired an excellent shot across Higashiguchi following a pass from Leandro on yet another Tokyo counter attack. 3-1 game over.


* Basically all of Gamba’s games this year have followed a similar pattern, Oita are the only team we’ve looked significantly better than, yet we only beat them 2-1. Similarly, Kawasaki are the only team who’ve looked much stronger than us and we only lost 1-0. What the last two home games have shown is that teams are on to our system and are quickly closing down our defenders, forcing mistakes and winning the ball back in dangerous areas. Playing Patric last week at Kashima gave us an out ball to allow us to quickly clear our lines, why did he not start here, and why was Watanabe brought off the bench before him?
* Ryu Takao in theory has the skill set to play right wing-back, but as this was his first start in the position he looked rather shaky. Despite being denied by an excellent Hayashi save and then colliding with the shrewd Takahagi at the end of a surging run into the box, his general distribution was much below that of Onose.
* The penalty against us was the correct decision in my opinion, the ball struck Kim on the arm and it was away from his body. However, how a player is supposed to slide and keep their arms by their side, I don’t know. Also from my recent reading on expected goals, a penalty kick is generally scored 70-75% of the time, I always feel dissatisfied when teams are given spot kicks for innocuous handballs in moves unlikely to result in shots or goals. Nagoya can feel more aggrieved than us with the penalty they conceded. Fortunately, in my eyes anyway, justice was served as Lucas Fernandes of Sapporo failed to convert. I don’t know how to fix this quandry and I am just ranting here out of frustration.
* We now look like also rans in the title race, so why not give some of the youngsters a shot. Tokyo had Shuto Abe in midfield and the two Nakamura’s at full-back on Saturday, while we saw Kashima with Araki and Someno, so for me it’s time to gently introduce Shuhei Kawasaki, Shoji Toyama and Ren Shibamoto who’ve been in great form for the U23s see below, as well as Yuki Yamamoto who has just been warming the bench for the top team.

Gamba MVP

Takashi Usami – His best game this season in my opinion. A brilliant strike to equalise, constantly dropped deep to pick the ball up and should have been rewarded with an assist but Watanabe was unable to guide his header past Hayashi. Really needs more help as he can’t create and score all by himself.

Under-23 round up

Gamba U23 eventually ran out comfortable 3-0 winners over Sagamihara S.C. on Sunday night. A shaky start could have seen them fall behind, but they bounced back to take the lead in the 21st minute. Haruto Shirai’s low cross from the right evaded everyone in the middle except Dai Tsukamoto who managed to guide his shot past the unlucky Victor.

Into the second half and Gamba escaped appeals for a handball when the ball bounced awkwardly and struck Keisuke Kurokawa on the arm. The Nerrazzuri received little advantage though, as it fell for Sagamihara and ‘keeper Kei Ishikawa was forced into a good save to tip the ball over.

Two goals on the counter in additional time at the end of the game added gloss to the scoreline. First Tsukamoto played in the tiring Shoji Toyama who powered a shot past Victor before being immediately replaced in the 93rd minute. Two minutes later, sub Ko Ise won the ball in midfield, fed Tsukamoto who in turn found Shuhei Kawasaki, the form man jinked and weaved before firing home his 5th goal in 4 games, surely some top team midfielders must be looking over their shoulders now.


Kashima Antlers 1-1 Gamba Osaka (23/08/20) Match Report

Match Report

Gamba conceded a heartbreaking 95th minute equaliser in Ibaraki last Sunday as Tomoya Inukai’s late header cancelled out Kosuke Onose’s early strike in Kashima legend Atsuto Uchida’s farewell match.

Kim Young-gwon returned to the left-side of central defence after sitting out the Urawa defeat, while Yuya Fukuda rotated with Hiroki Fujiharu down the left and Shu Kurata came in for Yuji Ono in midfield. In attack Patric got his first league start of the year, taking the place of Kazuma Watanabe who didn’t look sharp at all in the home loss to Reds.

Despite a positive start from Antlers which saw Shoma Doi and Ryuji Izumi fire weak shots at Masaaki Higashiguchi when they really should have done better (a theme that was constantly revisited in my match notes), it was the visitors who went ahead in just the 6th minute. Decent build up play culminated in a one-two down the left between Kurata and Patric, the former then made his way into the box and squared for Onose who finished coolly low to a diving Yuya Oki’s left. A dream start.

Kashima hero Atsuto Uchida made an earlier than anticipated entry replacing the injured Rikuto Hirose after just 16 minutes. After that the home side began to take more and more control of the game as Gamba were content to sit back and soak up pressure. Juan Alano struck the bar with a cross-shot in the 21st minute and ten minutes before the break a fierce left foot volley from Everaldo rebounded off Higashiguchi into the path of the advancing Ryuji Izumi who could only knee his effort wide.

Into the second half and it was more of the same, Kashima pressure and reasonably solid Gamba defence. My most commonly written note was…Kashima player #… weak shot from edge of the box, straight at Higashiguchi. Gamba did have a couple of decent chances on the counter, particularly when Usami took advantage of a mix-up between Oki and Ikuma Sekigawa but his touch took him too far wide and then in the 62nd minute when good build up play ended with Yosuke Ideguchi’s cross which found Onose in the 6-yard box but he was unable to properly direct his volley on the turn.

As ever Antonio Carlos Zago looked to his bench to try and sway things in his team’s direction, young replacement forward Itsuki Someno got in behind a tiring Gamba rear-guard a few times, but to no avail. Gamba looked dead on their feet for the remaining 20 minutes and tried to tippy-tappy play their way out of danger only to see their passes intercepted by Kashima players. Antlers would have had failed to score in 6 of their 12 league games this year if they didn’t find the back of the net here and the word I was preparing to use for their attack in my post-match Tweet was ‘toothless.’ Unfortunately for Gamba fans, I didn’t get to type that word. Inukai rose above Hiroki Fujiharu to head sub Ryotaro Araki’s cross in off Higashiguchi’s right-hand post to secure a draw few neutrals would begrudge them.

My Analysis

I’ve been reading a few books recently, The Football Code by James Tippett and The Numbers Game by Chris Anderson and David Sally, both talk about the role that luck plays in football and also how the final score skews the game’s narrative. Had Inukai’s header hit the post then Miyamoto would receive praise for winning 4 of the first 5 away from home this year while Zago would be slated for yet another defeat with no goals scored. But, of course, the scoreline was 1-1 and now Gamba management must consider if the current strategy we are pursuing in this unique season is the correct one.

Miyamoto can rightly point to the team’s league position and the fact that aside from runaway leaders Kawasaki, we can hold our own against anyone else in the chasing pack. As a Scottish person, however, Gamba’s strategy appears to mirror the one my home nation adopt when faced with a bigger, more powerful country, try to score early and then defend, defend, defend like our lives depend on it. Almost every other J1 club seems able to play at a higher tempo and press harder for longer than Gamba, so what is going on? Kashima have a big reputation and although they have performed poorly in 2020, they have many dangerous players who deserve respect, Doi, Leo Silva, Everaldo to name but three. However, in a similar manner to our friends over in Saitama who complained vigorously about the nature of their 1-0 win over Hiroshima last week, do Gamba fans have a right to feel aggrieved about the style of football being served up this term? What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Gamba MVP

A tough one as we basically abandoned any form of attacking strategy after 20 minutes but I’ll go for Yosuke Ideguchi for getting through a power of work in the middle of the park and covering so much ground.

Gamba U23 Round Up

Just a quick shout out to our Under-23 side in J3 who recorded an impressive 1-1 draw away to leaders Blaublitz Akita on Saturday night. After falling behind early, Gamba bounced back well and grabbed a deserved equaliser through Shuhei Kawasaki who beautifully curled the ball past Yudai Tanaka in the home goal for his 4th strike in the last 3 games (incredibly he now has 7 goals and 14 assists in 36 J3 games – surely if Gamba fall off the pace in J1 then he’ll get his chance this year). A stronger referee may have given Gamba an injury time penalty for a trip on Shoji Toyama, but it was not to be and the visitors had to be content with a point which keeps them 16th ahead of Sanuki and Cerezo U23.

sport Uncategorized

Winter signings so far

In this article I’ll review the 7 players who are already confirmed to be joining Gamba’s first team for 2020. I’ve categorised them by on-field position.


Name: Jun Ichimori
Born: 2 July 1991, Izumisano, Osaka (28 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 182/77
Foot: right
Youth Clubs: Cerezo Osaka Youth, Kwansei Gakuin University
Pro Club History: 2014-2016 Renofa Yamaguchi FC (94 apps), 2017-2019 Fagiano Okayama (89 apps)

After moving east from Yamaguchi to Okayama in 2017, Ichimori has now returned back to his hometown of Osaka after 6 years playing J2 and J3 football in western Honshu. He was previously a member of Cerezo Osaka’s youth setup before spending 4 years studying at Kwansei Gakuin University. When he first moved to Yamaguchi in 2014, they were still in the JFL, but they achieved back to back promotions in his time there to become an established J2 side. He turned out 30 times in his final year with Renofa in 2016 before his impressive displays brought him to the attention of Fagiano. After being the undisputed number one in his first year with the Pheasants, he faced a fierce battle with former Nagasaki and Sapporo ‘keeper Junki Kanayama through 2018 and 2019. His quality eventually prevailed and he made 34 league appearances in 2019 to help an injury depleted Okayama finish in 9th place in the final J2 standings.
He was rated as one of the top stoppers in J2 this year, but he’ll likely find it hard to dislodge Gamba’s number one Masaaki Higashiguchi. He will, however, be a fine backup, who will likely get some game time in the cups. His arrival is also likely to mean Mizuki Hayashi will go out on loan, while young Kosei Tani is being courted by Shonan Bellmare.


Name: Keisuke Kurokawa
Born: 13 April 1997, Hyogo (22 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 173/70
Foot: unknown
Youth Clubs: FC Rios Jr, Vissel Kobe Itami U15, Osaka Toin High School, Kansai University
Pro Club History: 2019 Gamba Osaka [designated special player] (1 appearance)

Kurokawa is a left-back / left wing-back who will likely challenge Hiroki Fujiharu for a starting berth next year and his arrival is also likely to see Yuya Fukuda feature more on his favoured right side of the field. He was brought in to train with Gamba’s first team squad this year as one of JLeague’s designated special players (I translate this more as an apprenticeship or on job training) so he should be able to get up to speed quickly. He’s already made one J1 appearance for Gamba, as a 71st minute replacement for Oh Jae-suk, in the 3-1 defeat away to Tosu back in May. Additionally he played the full 90 minutes in the comprehensive league cup group stage wins at home to S-Pulse and Jubilo.

Name: Shin Won-ho
Born: 19 May 2001, South Korea (18 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 176/67
Foot: left
Youth Clubs: Muwon Elementary School, Gunpo Junior High School, Boin High School
Pro Club History: N/A

South Korea U18 and U19 representative Shin Won-ho joins Gamba from Boin High School in Seoul, from where Bae Soo-yong (currently on loan at Kamatamare Sanuki) also hails. He is a left sided player who seems likely to fit in at left wing-back in Gamba’s 352 formation. I’ve no doubt the presence of South Korean international veteran Kim Young-gwon was instrumental in attracting him to Suita. According to his Youtube highlights package ( ), he likes to get forward and has a good cross on him. Gamba have a good record with Korean signings (Lee Keun-ho, Oh Jae-suk, Hwang Ui-jo, Kim Young-gwon), so I’m hopeful this one can work out well too.


Name: Yuki Yamamoto
Born: 6 November 1997, Shiga (22 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 173/64
Foot: right
Youth Clubs: Yasu JFC, Sagawa Shiga FC, FC Koto, Kusatsu Higashi Senior High School, Kwansei Gakuin University
Pro Club History: 2019 Gamba Osaka [designated special player]

A former university team mate of current Gamba defender Ryu Takao, Yamamoto (then a 3rd year student) also played in Kwansei Gakuin’s shock 2-1 Emperor’s Cup win over Levir Culpi’s Gamba back in June 2018. His performance that day clearly put him on Gamba’s radar and his signing for 2020 was confirmed in June of this year with him taking up a designated special player slot for the rest of the year. He didn’t see any first team action in 2019, but I expect to see him challenge for an attacking midfield role in this coming campaign.


Name: Shuhei Kawasaki
Born: 28 April 2001, Kishiwada, Osaka (18 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 168/66
Foot: right
Youth Clubs: Edith Kishiwada SC, Hokuto SC, SS Create, Gamba Osaka Junior Youth, Gamba Osaka Youth
Pro Club History: 2019 Gamba Osaka [Type 2 – amateur contract] (24 appearances, 2 goals, 9 assists with Gamba U23 in J3)

Gamba U23’s assist king in J3 this year with a highly impressive 9 in 24 games. He did only manage 2 goals in that time, playing mainly as a left-winger of second striker, so that will need to be improved, but training with full-time professionals will help, especially the likes of Usami, Kurata and Ademilson who will really assist him in developing his game.

Name: Shoji Toyama
Born: 21 September 2002, Toyonaka, Osaka (17 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 178/65
Foot: right
Youth Clubs: Gamba Osaka Junior, Gamba Osaka Junior Youth, Gamba Osaka Youth
Pro Club History: 2019 Gamba Osaka [Type 2 – amateur contract] (9 appearances, 8 goals with Gamba U23 in J3)

Probably the most exciting of the latest crop of Gamba Youth products, Toyama, who represented Japan in this year’s Under 17 World Cup, netted at a rate of almost a goal a game in J3 this year. His composure in front of goal belies his tender years and I highly recommend you check out his hat-trick in the 6-0 rout of Fukushima United in September if you can find it on Youtube. He’s only in his second year of high school this year, yet he already stands at 178cm, when his body fully develops he’ll surely be a handful for J1 defences. Like Kawasaki, he’ll benefit hugely from training alongside seasoned pros every day…having the nous of someone like Patric or Kazuma Watanabe to lean on will be great for him.

Name: Dai Tsukamoto
Born: 23 June 2001, Izumi City, Osaka (18 years old)
Height (cm) / Weight (kg): 178/72
Foot: right
Youth Clubs: Izumi City FC, SS Create, Gamba Osaka Junior Youth, Gamba Osaka Youth
Pro Club History: 2019 Gamba Osaka [Type 2 – amateur contract] (21 appearances, 5 goals, 3 assists with Gamba U23 in J3)

Can play either as a left-winger or a striker in the same vein as Shuhei Kawasaki, though when both are on the field together it’s generally Tsukamoto on the left and Kawasaki playing off the main attacker. He struck 5 goals in 21 J3 games in 2019 (8 starts, 13 sub appearances) and bagged a hat-trick in the 3-1 home win over Gainare Tottori on his 18th birthday. From what I’ve seen of him, I’d rate Toyama and Kawasaki as better prospects, but similar to what I’ve said above, let’s see where he is after 2-3 years of full time training.


What will happen to Gamba’s legion of loanees?

With no J1 action this week owing to the international break and disappointing results for both Gamba U23 (3-0 losers at Blaublitz Akita) and Gamba Youth (who lost 4-0 to Nagoya Grampus U18 in the final of the Youth Cup), I decided to look at how Gamba’s large contingent of loanees have been getting on.

#2 Hiroki Noda (Montedio Yamata) – 22 years old – centre-back – Playing for Gamba U23 Noda always reminded me of the book Moneyball where Billy Beane basically said the only reason he had a pro-baseball career was due to the fact that he looked like a pro-baseball player. Standing 181cm, broad shouldered and strong, Noda looks like your archetypical centre-back, but to my eyes he’s never really performed at anything better than J3 level. I was surprised he went to Yamagata, a high flying J2 outfit with a strong defence, less surprising was his failure to make much of an impact, only 6 appearances to date. I think a return home to Kumamoto for 2020 may work out well for all parties concerned.

#14 Koki Yonekura (JEF United Chiba) – 31 – right-back – One of my favourite Gamba players since he joined from JEF in 2014, but even I have to reluctantly agree that his days as a J1 player are numbered. I know JEF are his hometown club, but there seems to be something badly wrong with their team environment so I’d love to see him join a side higher up the table, one who are genuinely looking for promotion.

#17 Mizuki Ichimaru (FC Gifu) – 22 – centre-midfield – Was highly rated a couple of years back and even appeared on all the Gamba promotional material alongside Endo, Konno, Higashiguchi etc, clearly being pushed as the new face of the Gamba Youth set-up. Niggling injuries every season seem to have hindered his development and he looked pretty disinterested when I saw him playing in J3 early this season. A loan move to FC Gifu brought 14 league appearances and 2 assists but also relegation and another injury. I can’t see him coming back to Gamba and playing, maybe he’ll leave permanently for a lower tier J2 or upper tier J3 side or he may go out on loan for another year.

#18 Akito Takagi (Montedio Yamagata) – 22 – centre-forward / right-wing – In the form of his life with Gamba U23 at the start of the year netting 11 times in just 17 games before moving to Yamagata on loan. If I were Gamba I wouldn’t be in a hurry to loan Yamagata any more players as shortly after he arrived they also brought in Yuya Yamagishi from FC Gifu in the same position. As a result Takagi has mustered 1 goal in 10 appearances (only 1 start) and must wonder what the future holds. He looks like an excellent prospect but he’ll surely be crowded out when it comes to a starting slot next year….another loan move to a lower ranked J2 side probably beckons.

#20 Hiroto Goya (V-Varen Nagasaki) – 25 – centre-forward – Things couldn’t have gone any better for Goya personally down in Kyushu, bagging 22 goals in 35 appearances for a mid-table side. Next season will surely see him in a Gamba shirt once more aiming to become the answer to our problematic finishing. It’s now or never for him as at 25 this is the perfect chance for him to light up Suita Stadium.

#22 Oh Jae-suk (FC Tokyo) – 29 – right/ left-back – Another popular member of the 2014 treble winning team who has gone out on loan this season, Jae-suk linked up with former coach Kenta Hasegawa and has nailed down the left-back spot as Tokyo search for their maiden J1 crown. Due to the way things have gone for him and the existing bond between he and Hasegawa, I’d say it’s pretty certain he’ll join the Gasmen permanently in the off-season.

#25 Jungo Fujimoto (Kyoto Sanga F.C.) – 35 – attacking midfielder – Famous for a couple of spectacular goals, some pretty passing and not a whole lot else at Gamba, in truth he was slightly over the hill before he joined us and now at 35 his career as a J1 player must surely be over. I’m sure he’ll have something to bring both on and off the field at a mid to lower table J2 team in 2020.

#28 Takahiro Ko (Renofa Yamaguchi FC) – 21 – central midfielder – Everyone else on Twitter seems to rate him more than me, he’s also been involved with the Japan U22 set-up so I’ll accept in this case that I’m the one in the wrong. Miyamoto made him captain of the U23’s last year and he was the first player he called into the J1 team after he was promoted so he clearly likes Ko. However, after some average results at the start of this campaign, a change of formation, the return of Ideguchi and the revival of Yajima saw him become surplus to requirements. Honestly, I don’t see him playing regularly for Gamba in 2020 so he may stay on at Yamaguchi next season. Due to the strong bond that’s developed between the clubs over the past couple of years, I wouldn’t mind if we could get Ryuho Kikuchi in exchange for Ko.

#– Ryota Suzuki (JEF United Chiba) – 25 – goalkeeper – Only managed 16 league appearances this season and was generally back-up to the error-prone Yuya Sato. If he comes back he’ll be way down the pecking order, he should probably join a J3 side and play regularly for the sake of his career.

#– Bae Soo-yong (Kamatamare Sanuki) – 21 – centre-back – Started off the season in the side, but now a bench warmer as Sanuki slip into the oblivion (they’re currently level on points with Gamba U23). He would take up a foreigner slot if he returned so I reckon he’ll either go to JFL or back to South Korea.

#– Kazunari Ichimi (Kyoto Sanga F.C.) – 22 – centre-forward – Like Goya, he’s done brilliantly, scoring 17 times in 35 matches for an over-performing Kyoto side. He’s more of a link up player compared to Goya who is more in the penalty box poacher mold, meaning than there should be room for both in Gamba’s J1 squad for 2020.

*Note – I didn’t include #38 Keito Nakamura as he’s on an 18-month loan at FC Twente – for what it’s worth I don’t see him coming back to J1 anytime soon.


Oita Trinita match preview

Oita Trinita (8th) vs Gamba Osaka (9th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 31
10 November 2019 at 14:00 JST
Showa Denko Dome Oita

Gamba travel to Kyushu this Sunday for their penultimate away game of the season knowing that a win will take them within just two points of Oita who sit only one place ahead of them in the standings. Both sides have had very contrasting seasons, Gamba kicked off their campaign by taking just 8 points from their first 11 games but have since steadied the ship, losing only 3 times in the following 19 league matches. Oita, on the other hand, came flying out of the blocks and after 12 games were sitting pretty with 24 points, since then life in J1 has proved tougher and they’ve taken just 19 points from the past 18 games with only 4 wins coming alongside 7 draws and 7 defeats. That said, the men from Kyushu would have bitten your hand off at the start of the year to have such a comfortable return to top flight football.

The reverse fixture between the sides took place back in April and saw Gamba have the better of play, but in the end the game finished 1-1 with Yasuhito Endo’s deflected shot in the 71st minute cancelling out Ado Onaiwu’s first half opener in front of just 17,727 fans (Gamba’s lowest attendance of the season). Prior to that the last league meeting between the two came way back in 2009, with Gamba winning both games, 1-0 at home and 3-1 away. However, Gamba have lost on each of their previous 3 league visits to Kyushu, 3-1 to Sagan Tosu in May as well 3-0 defeats to both Tosu and V-Varen Nagasaki in 2018. Their last win in Kyushu came on 26 August 2017 when second-half goals from Shu Kurata, Shun Nagasawa and Hiroki Fujiharu led them to a 3-1 win against Tosu which actually proved to be their final victory of the season as they collapsed in Kenta Hasegawa’s final matches in charge.

Gamba captain and centre-back Genta Miura as well as central midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi both received recalls to the Japan national team for the Kirin International Challenge match against Venezuela at Panasonic Stadium Suita on November 19th, Miura currently has 7 caps while Ideguchi has 2 goals in 12 national team appearances. For Oita, on-loan Urawa forward Ado Onaiwu who has netted 10 times for them in J1 this season will join Miura and Ideguchi in the squad, his first senior call-up. His team-mate, centre-back Tomoki Iwata will be part of the Japan Under-22 squad for the match against Colombia on November 17th where he’ll be joined by Gamba U23 goalkeeper Kosei Tani. In further international news, Gamba’s South Korean centre-back Kim Young-gwon will be looking to add to his 74 caps in matches against Lebanon and Brazil.

Team News:
Gamba made 4 changes to the starting line-up in their last game against Shonan Bellmare. Forwards Takashi Usami and Ademilson returned from injury to take the places of the injured Shu Kurata and experienced striker Kazuma Watanabe. Yasuhito Endo came into the deep-lying playmaker role and formed a midfield triangle with Yosuke Ideguchi and Shinya Yajima while right wing-back Yuya Fukuda missed out altogether (I assume he was injured but I didn’t see any announcements) and Kosuke Onose reverted to his regular role down the right having played as a second striker in the previous match at home to Kawasaki Frontale. The final move saw Shunya Suganuma replace Ryu Takao in the back 3 which seemed to give it a more solid look although Takao definitely does possess more pace than Suganuma. I’d expect Gamba to continue with the same starters against Oita with only potentially Watanabe coming in for Ademilson, who failed to score from 5 shots against Shonan or if Fukuda returns from injury (he was pictured alongside a mask-wearing Shu Kurata training with the top team on Thursday) then he could take the place of Fujiharu in the starting eleven or David Concha on the subs bench.

Oita are pretty set on a 3-4-2-1 formation which has seen them achieve excellent results this season. Shun Takagi, who blundered badly for FC Tokyo’s opener last week is the first choice goalkeeper. The three centre-backs consist of; captain Yoshinori Suzuki who is flanked by Tomoki Iwata, a member of Japan’s squad at this year’s Copa America and Yuto Misao, older brother of Kashima Antlers Kento. Right wing-back Rei Matsumoto has been an ever present for Trinita in J1 this year while on the left is Tatsuya Tanaka who of course joined mid-season from Gamba, only a matter of months after moving to Osaka from Roasso Kumamoto. In the midfield engine-room, another summer signing Yuki Kobayashi (Nagoya Grampus) is likely to be partnered by either Toshio Shimakawa or 22 year-old Yushi Hasegawa. Further forward, Kazuki Kozuka is a key provider of assists and he will probably be joined by the experienced Kazuki Mitsuhira in playing off of the diminutive Yusuke Goto in attack. Goto, who netted the winner away to Urawa a couple of weeks back is currently keeping top-scorer Ado Onaiwu on the bench, although I feel this may be due to Oita having only pride to play for and Onaiwu being set to return to his parent club, Urawa Red Diamonds, in 2020. Trinita don’t score many goals, just 32 in 30 games prior to this one, with Onaiwu and now departed forward Noriaki Fujimoto (Vissel Kobe’s bench) contributing 18 goals between them, however they are very solid at the back, letting in only 29, a rate of fewer than one per game which gives them the joint 5th best defence in J1.

Oita come into this game seemingly in holiday mode and are actually a better team on the road than they are at home with 22 of their 43 league points won away from the Oita Dome against just 21 won at home. They were comfortably defeated by title challengers FC Tokyo last week while Gamba easily saw off struggling Shonan, 3-0 still I’m not sure how much we can read into those results. My heart says Gamba will keep up their decent form and edge a hard fought clash 2-0, but I’m very wary of making positive predictions for this Gamba side away from home so I’ll opt for a 1-1 draw and hope to be proven wrong.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (30)
DM 7 Yasuhito Endo (39)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
CM 21 Shinya Yajima (25)
CF 33 Ademilson (25)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 27 Ryu Takao (CB/RB22), 29 Leo Takae (CM/AM/21), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 34 Yuya Fukuda (RWB/LWB/20), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)