Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis
Emperor’s Cup Semi-Final
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Sunday 27 December 16:00
Last Time Out
Gamba closed out their 2020 J1 campaign with a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Shimizu S-Pulse. Despite the game being a dead rubber, Nerazzurri kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto fielded a strong looking starting eleven with just 3 changes from the win at Yokohama FC 3 days prior. Kim Young-gwon, the free from suspension Yuya Fukuda and Dai Tsukamoto (1st J1 start) replaced the benched Gen Shoji, Shinya Yajima and Kazuma Watanabe.
The first-half was a dull end-of-season affair and the sides went into the break goalless before two goals in the opening 20 minutes of the second period won the game for the visitors. A first ever J1 strike by 19 year-old Riyo Kawamoto got things rolling after 49 minutes and when Shota Kaneko fired in a second after Yajima’s attempted block fell into his path, it knocked the stuffing out of Gamba. Jiro Nakamura provided some spark when he came on for a late cameo (and J1 debut), but in the end things petered out and the home side never really looked like breaching the leakiest defence in the league. Full time 0-2.
Gamba Osaka vs Tokushima Vortis Match Lowdown
In all honesty, Gamba would probably rather play this tie away or on neutral territory. As J1’s best away team in 2020, they defeated everyone from 8th down in the final standings on their travels, however, they also managed to lose at home to the bottom 3 sides (Shonan, Sendai and Shimizu) by a combined score of 7-0. Indeed, the Nerazzurri have only won by more than a single goal once at Panasonic Stadium this season, 2-0 versus Kashima in early October, and in that match the first goal came via the penalty spot, before Kazuma Watanabe wrapped up the points with a breakaway strike in second half stoppage time. As alluded to in my preview of the S-Pulse game, the next big task facing Gamba kantoku Tsuneyasu Miyamoto is to get the home form sorted, especially against teams who are content to sit deep and offer the men in blue and black plenty of opportunities to play the ball about in front of them. Granted, the return of Usami, Ideguchi, Ono and Onose will help in that respect, as will finding a suitable replacement for Ademilson if the purse strings can be loosened enough. (Leandro Pereira?)
With the J1 season now finished, we can finally compare the performances of teams on an even basis without wide discrepancies in number of fixtures played due to ACL commitments, COVID outbreaks etc. Gamba finished with the joint 5th best defensive record in J1, tied with FC Tokyo, however, for goals scored, they ranked equal ninth alongside Cerezo and Hiroshima, out of teams in the top-half of the standings, only Nagoya (45) found the back of the net less than Gamba’s 46. With this in mind, it’s easy to see where the work needs to be done in the off-season.
Gamba have won the Emperor’s Cup five times in their history including back-to-back triumphs in 2014 and 2015, however, their recent memories of the competition aren’t great as they’ve been knocked out by universities in each of the past 2 editions. First came the shock 2-1 extra-time defeat at the hands of Kwansei Gakuin University at Panasonic Stadium in 2018 and this was followed by a 2-0 reverse in Tokyo against Hosei University in August 2019. It’s interesting to see what some of those students have gone on to achieve in the game since upsetting Gamba. Ryu Takao captained Kwansei Gakuin in 2018 and Yuki Yamamoto pulled the strings in midfield, neither of them will require any introduction to Nerazzurri supporters. Hiroto Yamami, scorer of the winning goal that fateful evening will become the 3rd member of that squad to play for Gamba after he graduates next year, while midfielder Katsuya Nakano has called Kyoto home since 2019. For Hosei, senior midfielders, Kazuya Konno (FC Tokyo), Toshiki Mori (Tochigi), Hiroya Sueki (Toyama) and Ryotaro Onishi (FC Gifu), as well as forward Akira Matsuzawa (Toyama) have already started making their way in the professional game. Next year’s crop of graduates looks even better with goalkeeper Kojiro Nakano (Sapporo), defenders Taiki Miyabe (Matsumoto), Riku Morioka (Iwata), Masahiro Sekiguchi (Kofu) and Yuya Takagi (Yokohama FC) as well as midfielder Motoki Hasegawa (Kofu) all making the leap into the senior ranks.
Tokushima saw off JFL side Honda FC with surprising ease at Kobe’s Noevir Stadium on Wednesday night. A double from Tokuma Suzuki and Ken Iwao’s penalty helped them avoid a potential banana skin and they’ll now head east to Suita full of confidence. Vortis were crowned J2 champions just last week and will play in J1 next year, the first time they have done so since the 2014 season where they only took 14 points, scored 16 goals and racked up a goal difference of -58. After bouncing back from playoff heartbreak at Shonan last December, Tokushima will be looking to make their next visit to the rarified air of J1 more enjoyable than their previous experience. They will have to do so without Spanish kantoku Ricardo Rodriguez, in charge since 2017, but who has this week been confirmed as Urawa’s new boss for 2021, it’ll be interesting to see the reaction he gets from the Gamba support on Sunday. Ex-Panathinaikos coach and compatriot of Rodriguez, Daniel Poyatos is the new man in charge, he will have his hands full trying to keep hold of young #10 Masaki Watai who has been heavily linked with Reds, but the good news is that 187cm forward Yuki Kakita (Vortis’ top scorer this year with 17) looks set to remain on loan from Kashima despite reported interest from Shimizu. (It has since been announced that Watai will remain with the club in 2021).
Two Tokushima players Gamba fans should remember are forward Akihiro Sato and holding midfielder Yudai Konishi. Sato netted 14 times in 54 appearances for the Nerazzurri between 2012 and 2014 and Konishi is a Gamba Youth product who played twice for the U23s in J3 in 2016 before turning pro with Vortis the following year, to date he’s made 106 appearances and scored 8 goals in J2. Konishi’s partnership with the veteran Ken Iwao in central-midfield is a key component of Rodriguez’s strategy and after a bit of experimentation, the Spaniard seems to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 setup. The team plays a nice passing game and were able to break down J2 opponents on a regular basis leading to a number of players bagging a high total of assists. The right-sided Seiya Fujita helped himself to 9, just one shy of league leading Swede Emil Salomonsson of Fukuoka (10), while both Takeru Kishimoto (right flank) and Kazuya Nishiya (left) have 7 assists to their name, Gamba therefore have been given advanced warning of the dangers Tokushima can pose from either wing.
As expected with a side who finished top of the standings, Vortis’ team stats stack up quite nicely. Their 67 goals in 42 league outings was just one shy of top marksmen Mito (68), while only Fukuoka (29) conceded fewer than Tokushima’s 33 (0.79 per game). Just considering away results, Vortis were once again ranked as J2’s best side, ahead of Avispa on goal difference, exactly the same as the overall standings, with both teams taking home an impressive 10 more road points than 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki. Under pressure to secure promotion in their final few matches, Tokushima understandably played rather nervously and lost their last two away games of the season 1-0 (at Mito and Fukuoka), however, their previous road match was a see-saw 4-3 victory at Zweigen Kanazawa, so they clearly know how to find the back of the net away from the Pocari Sweat Stadium and this Sunday’s tie promises to be a real good game.
Head to Head
Gamba fans will have fond memories of the last time these two sides met, though the 0-0 played out in Tokushima on 6th December 2014 was very forgettable, the point gained was enough to see Gamba lift the J1 title in their first year back in the top flight following their shock relegation at the end of 2012. Indeed, both Vortis and the Nerazzurri were promoted together in 2013 (Tokushima via the playoffs) with Gamba winning both head-to-head league fixtures. Takashi Usami helped himself to 4 goals in a 5-1 rout in Shikoku in round 38, so I’m sure Vortis supporters will be hoping he’s still injured for this clash.
As usual there hasn’t been much injury news from the Gamba camp, though we do know for sure that Yuji Ono (knee) and Ademilson (club suspension/police charges) won’t feature. I’d put Yosuke Ideguchi and Kosuke Onose in the highly doubtful category, while it is possible Takashi Usami could play some part.
Serbian centre-back Dušan Cvetinović, a winter 2019/20 capture from Yokohama F.Marinos, was last seen in the 2-1 win at Omiya on September 23rd while on-loan Nagoya Grampus midfielder Koki Sugimori hasn’t featured since the 2-0 loss at Kyoto on November 21st. Yatsunori Shimaya (7 J2 apps), Yuki Oshitani (5), Daiki Enomoto (3) and Genta Omotehara (0) haven’t gotten much action in 2020, though I believe this is more down to non-selection than any fitness concerns.
After this blog post was written it was announced that Shimaya and defender Takuya Akiyama would be released ahead of the 2021 season.
Predicted Line Ups
Any major changes to the lineup below will only come about if Ideguchi, Onose and Usami are fit enough to play. Other than that, it’s 2 from Miura, Kim and Shoji at the back, and I guess Okuno could start ahead of Yajima in the middle, but we are looking at another really young bench on Sunday.
Vortis’ recent team selections have been pretty consistent and I’m confident that they’ll line up in the 4-2-3-1 shown below. Alternatives are Ishii in place of Fukuoka at centre-back, Fujita for Kishimoto at right-back and possibly Diego in for Tamukai on the left, though he’s likely to make the bench at best. Further forward, I believe Watai has been out of the eleven recently due to a niggling injury, and I struggle to see him getting in ahead of, Wednesday’s 2 goal hero, Suzuki from the start here.
Gamba will be champing at the bit to get another shot at Kawasaki after the 5-0 mauling last month, so I think they’ll do just enough to edge this one 2-1.