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Vegalta Sendai Match Preview

Gamba Osaka (9th) vs Vegalta Sendai (11th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 32

23 November 2019 at 15:00 JST
Panasonic Stadium Suita


J1 returns after the final international break of the season with a clash between Gamba Osaka and Vegalta Sendai, two teams locked on 38 points in mid-table. Gamba currently lie 2 places above Sendai due to a superior goal difference and have accumulated their points total through 9 wins and 11 draws whereas Sendai have won 11 times and drawn 5. With only 3 rounds of games left, both teams will feel like their J1 status is almost secure for next season and any points taken from this game should guarantee safety. After this match, Gamba play Matsumoto Yamaga at home the following week and then AFC Champions League finalists Urawa Red Diamonds in the final round. Vegalta, on the other hand, face tricky fixtures, at home to Oita Trinita in round 33, before finishing away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima on December 7th.

Vegalta come to Osaka on Saturday with the worst away record in the league this year, just 3 wins and 1 draw from 15 matches, however, they have won 2 of their last 3 games on the road, overcoming struggling Nagoya Grampus 2-0 as well as a surprisingly comfortable 3-1 win at Sapporo back in September. Gamba haven’t been defeated in the league at Panasonic Stadium Suita since Urawa left with all 3 points back on April 14th and have won 5 and drawn 6 of their following 11 home fixtures.

Sendai won the reverse encounter between the sides on April 28th, as goals in injury time at the end of the first and second half by Katsuya Nagato and former Gamba man Shun Nagasawa respectively saw them overturn Kim Young-gwon’s early effort. This was an identical outcome to the match played between the two in 2018 when Kazuma Watanabe fired Gamba ahead only for two second half goals to swing things in the direction of the home side. This is a lesson that doesn’t seem to have been learned from by Gamba this year as they’ve only converted half-time leads into victories on two occasions (out of 6 attempts) and indeed when they’ve trailed at the break in 2019 they’re yet to come back to gain all 3 points (2 draws and 7 defeats).

Golden Week 2018 was the last time these two sides played a league match in Osaka with Levir Culpi’s struggling outfit earning a 1-0 victory over a Sendai team which on paper looked much stronger than this year’s crop, featuring as it did the likes of Ko Itakura, Hiroaki Okuno, Gakuto Notsuda and Takuma Nishimura, all now departed. Shu Kurata’s 62nd minute finish was all that separated them and although the talismanic Gamba number 10 is unlikely to take any part in this game due to a cheekbone fracture, the men in blue and black will be looking for a similar outcome against a Sendai side which has definitely punched above it’s weight this season following the departures of the aforementioned players.

Team News:
Gamba had Kim Young-gwon, Genta Miura and Yosuke Ideguchi away on international duty, but welcome all three back into a squad which is now only missing Shu Kurata through injury. Miyamoto usually likes to make a couple of small changes following a defeat, so I feel we could see the return of Yuya Fukuda down the left side in place of Hiroki Fujiharu. Other options for small tweaks could be bringing Ryu Takao back in for Shunya Suganuma at centre-back or perhaps changing the dynamic up-front with Kazuma Watanabe or Patric coming in to partner Takashi Usami and thus providing a big target for crosses or long balls.

Most of Sendai’s best performances in recent weeks have come with them operating the 4-4-2 system, although they have used 3-4-2-1 quite extensively in the recent past. I’m working on the basis that they’ll go 4-4-2 for this one. Polish ‘keeper Jakub Slowik, who joined the club as a mid-season replacement for the now departed Japanese international Daniel Schmidt will be between the sticks. Veteran centre-back Yasuhiro Hiraoka, who will make his 300th J1 appearance in this match, is likely to be partnered by versatile Mozambique international Simao Mate with Koji Hachisuka at right-back and assist-king Katsuya Nagato (9 assists, 2 goals in 27 J1 games in 2019) on the left. Club legend Shingo Tomita will anchor the midfield alongside Yoshiki Matsushita, an acquisition from Vissel Kobe last winter. Another winter 2018-19 signing, Ryohei Michibuchi (Ventforet Kofu) usually plays on the right-wing and in-form ex-Urawa and Cerezo winger Kunimutsu Sekiguchi is enjoying an Indian Summer in his career down the left (4 goals and 1 assist in 20 J1 games). Up front, 192cm former Gamba star Shun Nagasawa will likely be partnered by wily Brazilian Ramon Lopes, both forwards have found the net 6 times in the league this year and are currently Sendai’s top scorers. As noted earlier Simao Mate is able to play in more than one position, if he moves into central-midfield it could open the door for another former Gamba player, Kim Jung-ya, to come into their defence. Powerful forward Ryo Germain, ex-FC Tokyo attacker Takuma Abe and the vastly experienced Naoki Ishihara are likely to provide attacking re-inforcement from the bench.

Prediction:
Gamba haven’t lost at home in the league for 7 months and Vegalta are owners of the worst away record this season, but J1 is rarely that predictable. A draw for both teams would most probably make them mathematically safe from relegation, so I believe we will see a tight, tactical scuffle that Gamba will ultimately edge through a Takashi Usami strike which will take him to within one goal of Ademilson and Kurata at the top of the Gamba goalscoring charts.

As an aside, because of Labour Thanksgiving Day, this will be my 4th home game of the season. The results of the previous three are; 0-1 vs Urawa (Gamba’s last home league defeat), and 1-1 against Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Jubilo Iwata at either end of the Obon vacation. Goals scored by the opposition are Ewerton (Urawa) 87’, Leandro Pereira (Hiroshima) 90+2’ and Masato Nakayama (Iwata) 90+5’….so I guess what we can take from this is never give up Sendai….a 97th minute equaliser this time, anyone?

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 34 Yuya Fukuda (20)
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/RWB/23), 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (LWB/30), 11 David Concha (RW/LW/AM/23), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)

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Gamba News 10/11/19

A disappointing result for Gamba today in J1, going down 2-1 away to Oita Trinita, while they U23 side drew 3-3 at Iwate Grulla Morioka yesterday. Here’s my take on all the latest Gamba news.

# 1 Top half finish still a realistic prospect
I’m sure all Gamba supporters came away from today’s game with a feeling of what might have been, plenty of opportunities were created but only one taken and ultimately any chance to catch up with and pass Oita and Sapporo has now evaporated. That said, due to poor results for other team’s just behind Gamba, they remain in 9th place on a paltry 38 points. After the international break comes a home double header against Vegalta Sendai (11th, behind Gamba on goal difference, but the owners of the worst away record in the division) and Matsumoto Yamaga (17th, 30 points), two definitely winnable games which could see Gamba onto 44 points, a total unlikely to be overhauled by anyone further down the table regardless of the outcome of the Urawa game in the final day. 9th place (following on from 9th in 2018 and 10th in 2017) isn’t something that would have thrilled your average supporter had you asked them at the start of the season, but it looks like it’s going to be as good as it gets in 2019.

# 2 Away form a handbrake on the team’s progress
I felt strangely confident coming into the Oita game. As I wrote in the match preview, Trinita flew threw the first third of the season and have been in cruise control ever since. They are better away than at home and even after today’s win, they only have 5 victories in their last 19 J1 games. That Gamba were unable to come away with even a point is a testament to the fickleness of their road performances this year. After winning their first 2 games against Shimizu and Kawasaki, the only further away successes have been at struggling Matsumoto and Shonan. We haven’t lost at home in J1 for 7 months, but it that time have been well beaten at Cerezo, Tokyo and Yokohama as well as today’s loss….much improvement in mentality and tactical approach needed, I feel.

#3 How to judge this season….thoughts about next year
In 2017 Gamba defeated Cerezo 3-1 at home on 29 July to go third in the table after 19 matches but then conspired to win only one of their remaining fixtures and ended up 10th. The rot continued in the first half of 2018 and they only climbed out of the relegation zone after round 28 which fell in the middle of a 9 game winning run that ultimately saw a 9th place finish. This year started much like last with 7 defeats in the first 11 games which was been followed by personnel and tactical changes and a lot of average performances and may again result in a top half finish. However, the feel good factor that came with the Miyamoto appointment and the 9 game winning streak is not with me this time and I find myself desperately searching for reasons to be positive for 2020.
Here are some of my ideas for a better year;
* Better co-ordination between the front office and the coaching staff – too many players have been signed this year (and before) who the manager clearly didn’t want / need (Daisuke Takagi, Susaeta, Concha)
*Stick to the areas of recruitment we’re good at, namely; direct from the youth system (Gamba Youth have produced more internationals than any other JLeague club), players from high schools outwith Kansai (Keito Nakamura, Fukuda, Takae), players from university (Takao, Goya, Hiroyuki Abe, Fujiharu), ex-players (Ideguchi and Usami), and if we’re going to sign foreigners, maybe stick to South Koreans, we seem to be good at that.
*If we’re going to sign players from other J1 teams whose experience and age means that they’ll expect to play regularly, please consider if a) they play in a position that needs upgrading and b) they are better than players currently contracted to Gamba…I know this sounds obvious, but look at all transfer windows post 2014 for evidence of signings who don’t fit a, b or both.
*No more “Hail Mary” foreign signings – David Concha may or may not be a good player, no Gamba supporters really know, he was brought in after the season started, when we had no other Spanish speakers in the squad (Ademilson may have helped as I believe Spanish and Portuguese are mutually understandable)….he’s a young kid far away from home, at least give him a good chance of succeeding, ditto Susaeta, brought in with 9 matches left after being out of contract in Spain for a good 3 months, what kind of impact did we expect him to have? (this situation is made worse by the fact that neither player plays in a position that needs upgrading, if we’re going to go Spanish, what are Sergio Ramos or Gerard Pique up to?)
*Finally, please don’t sign any players in the same position as Kurata or Onose unless we either sell them or the new player is world class.

#4 2020 signings update
As I reported last week, it was confirmed that U23 assist king Shuhei Kawasaki would be joining the first team in 2020. He’ll be joined by fellow U23 left-winger / second striker (why did we sign Daisuke Takagi again?) Dai Tsukamoto….both players celebrated the news by scoring in Gamba U23’s 3-3 draw at the weekend, Tsukamoto even helped himself to an assist, setting up Kawasaki’s first half strike.

#5 Congratulations and good luck to those selected for international duty this week
Japan U22 vs Colombia….Kosei Tani
Japan vs Venezuela (Kirin Challenge)….Genta Miura and Yosuke Ideguchi
South Korea vs Lebanon and Brazil….Kim Young-gwon

Also….Gamba Youth and U23 forward Shoji Toyama represented Japan U17 in the World Cup, but unfortunately they were defeated 2-0 by Mexico in the last 16.

And finally….Gamba Youth defeated Avispa Fukuoka 3-1 today to reach the final of the Japanese Youth Cup….well done boys.

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Shonan Bellmare Match Preview

Shonan Bellmare (16th) vs Gamba Osaka (10th)
2019 Meiji Yasuda J1 League Round 30
3 November 2019 at 16:00 JST
Shonan BMW Stadium Hiratsuka


The only J1 fixture on Sunday is a massive clash for both sides with Gamba looking to take a giant step towards securing their J1 status for next season and Shonan hoping to halt a horror run of 7 league games without a win that has seen them slip into the promotion/relegation playoff spot.

Gamba won the reverse fixture between the two back in June with Ryotaro Meshino’s 91st minute wonderstrike all that separated them and this followed the pattern set last year when both teams won their respective home game 1-0.

Shonan have been in a state of shock since long serving manager Cho Kwi-jae was accused of power harassment and forced to step down. He has since been replaced by Bin Ukishima, but they have lost their previous 2 home games heavily, 5-0 against Kawasaki Frontale and 6-0 versus Shimizu S-Pulse. They last won at home on August 3rd when they upset Kashima Antlers by a score of 3-2 but in the 8 league games played since they’ve won just once (3-2 away to bottom club Jubilo Iwata on August 11th) and drawn twice, 1-1 away to Vegalta Sendai and at home to Urawa Reds. Their season has now reached a crisis point as they currently sit in 16th spot in the standings, just one point from safety but also only two points ahead of 17th place Matsumoto Yamaga who are in much better form than they are.

In contrast to Shonan, Gamba have taken 10 points from the previous 8 games (2 wins, 4 draws and 2 defeats), although they haven’t won away since defeating Matsumoto 3-1 at the end of June, one of only 3 victories on the road in 2019. They do know, however, that 3 points on Sunday would take them 7 clear of Shonan with only 4 games left and would surely just about guarantee their safety with remaining fixtures at home to Sendai (12th) and Yamaga (17th) as well as away matches against Oita (7th – nothing but pride to play for) and Urawa (9th – the result of this game is likely to be swung by what each team still has to play for, if anything on the final day.)

Team News:
Takashi Usami (left thigh) and Ademilson (hip) both missed the 2-2 draw at home to Kawasaki a fortnight ago, but return to the matchday squad for this crucial clash. Unfortunately attacking midfielder Shu Kurata, who netted his 7th league goal of the campaign against Frontale suffered a fractured cheekbone in the process and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Usami directly replacing Kurata is likely to be the only change to the starting line-up. Kosuke Onose did well in a more advanced role so I imagine he may get another run there with Hiroki Fujiharu once again at left wing-back and Yuya Fukuda on the right, which is supposed to be his favoured side anyway. Veteran forward Kazuma Watanabe should keep his place after netting 3 times in the last 4 league games meaning that Brazilian duo Ademilson and Patric will have to make do with spots on the bench.

Shonan generally set up their side in a similar style to Gamba with 3 centre-backs, against Yokohama F.Marinos in their previous game these were; Takuya Okamoto, Keisuke Saka and captain Kazunari Ohno. Their wing-backs were Shota Kobayashi on the right and 19 year-old rookie Toichi Suzuki on the left with Temma Matsuda and a recently returned from injury Shunsuke Kikuchi in the midfielder engine room. On loan Urawa Reds player Naoki Yamada and the rarely used Kazuki Yamaguchi played just off 187cm target man Ryogo Yamasaki who netted Bellmare’s consolation, his 5th league goal of 2019 which draws him level with Kosuke Taketomi as Shonan’s top scorer this season, Taketomi having already finished his loan and returned to Urawa after the Cho scandal broke. Experienced ‘keeper Yota Akimoto has been an ever present between the sticks for Bellmare this year. Due to their poor run, changes can be expected from Shonan with dangerous Brazilian attacker Crislan, former Urawa attacking midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki and left wing-back Daiki Sugioka, a Japan national team representative in this year’s Copa America, all potential starting options.

Prediction:
A tough one to call for me, in theory Shonan should be there for the taking following 5-0 and 6-0 thrashings in their last two home games, but Gamba’s away form hasn’t been great for the majority of the season so I’m kind of leaning towards a draw. Shonan’s defence is leaky, conceding 57 goals in just 29 games (2nd worst in the league after Shimizu) and Gamba do have a fondness for a 2-2 draw this year (4 in total including 3 away from home), so that’s what I’m going to opt for.

Predicted Gamba Line-up:
GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 27 Ryu Takao (22)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 19 Kim Young-gwon (29)
RWB 34 Yuya Fukuda (20)
LWB 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (30)
CM 21 Shinya Yajima (25)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
AM 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
AM 33 Takashi Usami (27)
CF 39 Kazuma Watanabe (33)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 13 Shunya Suganuma (CB/29), 7 Yasuhito Endo (CM/39), 29 Leo Takae (CM/AM/21), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 9 Ademilson (CF/25), 18 Patric (CF/31)

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Gamba U23 squad review

With Gamba’s senior team having a weekend off due to the Levain Cup final between Kawasaki and Sapporo, the spotlight fell on the U23 side in J3, particularly as they were playing their final derby against Cerezo U23 before both clubs leave the league to make way for newcomers from the JFL.

Gamba U23 went into the match with no over-age players in their starting 11, only reserve goalkeeper Ken Tajiri. They took the lead in the 50th minute when Dai Tsukamoto played the ball to diminutive right-winger Jiro Nakamura and he somehow managed to squeeze the ball in from a tight angle. Cerezo U23 hit back late on and strikes from Mizuki Ando (83′) and Motohiko Nakajima (90+1′) earned them the 3 points and left Gamba in 14th spot in the standings with just 6 games remaining.

I decided to do something different with this week’s blog and I’ll use my crystal ball to predict the futures of the young players currently turning out for Gamba U23 (for reference; Tani, Yamaguchi, Okuno, Shibamoto, Shirai and Tajiri are on full professional contracts for this year, all the other players are currently high-school students who have type-2 amateur contracts which allow them to play);

#41 Kosei Tani – goalkeeper – 18 (years old) – injuries have restricted him to just 9 games so far this year, but he is clearly highly rated as evidenced by his call up to the Japan U22 squad earlier this month. Long term he is the natural successor to Higashiguchi in the top team and if Mizuki Hayashi goes out on loan next season, he could earn the backup spot and get game time in the cups.

#43 Shohei Ogushi – right-back – 17 – high school 2nd grader so ineligible for a senior contract next year. He’s been reasonably solid if unspectacular whenever I’ve seen him play. Gamba do have decent options in his position so it may be hard for him to make the step up to the first team in 2021.

#38 Hayate Toma – centre-back – 17 – another high school 2nd grader, he has only just come into the team and has definitely looked better playing alongside the more experienced Riku Matsuda. Too early to tell with him, but his height (185cm compared with Matsuda 175cm) is in his favour.

#42 Shinri Ono – centre-back – 17 – the 3rd 17 year old in the backline yesterday and similar to Toma he has looked better playing alongside a more experienced partner who can talk him through games. Very tall (187cm) and seen as a good prospect, though I’m not particularly convinced by him when he has the ball at his feet. He has another year of high school / youth team football to develop him and he could potentially be in line for a senior contract in 2021.

#35 Tatsuya Yamaguchi – left-back – 19 – Has played a lot of J3 football for someone so young (58 games and counting) but he hasn’t really kicked on this year after a stellar start last season (albeit in a much stronger side). Another thing going against him is that Fujiharu, Fukuda and Kurokawa are all blocking his path to a place in the starting lineup. Perhaps a loan move to a decent J3 side would be a good move for all parties in 2020.

#26 Kohei Okuno – central-midfield – 19 – Struggled early on in the season with injuries but since returning to full fitness he’s become one of my favourite Gamba U23 players. He has a decent pedigree after playing in the Under-17 world cup alongside former team-mate Keito Nakamura, however, his style is quite similar to Takahiro Ko who’s currently out on loan at Yamaguchi in J2. At the moment Ko is the better player of the two, so if he’s not near the starting eleven then I don’t see Okuno getting there anytime soon. Finally, I hope Morishita stops experimenting with him at full-back, it’s definitely not his position.

#32 Ren Shibamoto – central-midfielder – 20 – One of the senior statesmen in the side this year, he has really improved with the added responsibility. He has played mostly in the deep lying playmaker role (a la Yajima and Endo in J1) or more recently as an attacking midfielder. I’d say the deeper role suits him better and ideally I’d like to see him challenge Yajima next season. A loan move to a decent J2 team who play good football could also be beneficial.

#48 Jiro Nakamura – right-winger – 16 – A very exciting prospect who won’t be available for a pro contract until 2022. I’d expect him to be handed a type 2 contract next year and in 2021 to aid his development. He’s very tricky and nimble, similar in many ways to Takefusa Kubo, although naturally as he’s so young, the physical side of the game is too much for him and he can be a bit of a liability defensively.

#47 Shuhei Kawasaki – left-winger / occasional centre-forward – 18 – The player who I’m most confident will earn a pro contract for next year. He hasn’t scored yet in J3 but has 7 assists in 19 games this year. I feel his form has tailed off a bit as teams have grown wise to him, but he’s still a high-school kid so next year training with the top team would really aid his development.

#37 Haruto Shirai – right-winger / centre-forward – 20 – He’s listed almost everywhere as exclusively a centre-forward but I think I saw him play 6-7 times as a right-winger before he finally went up top and this was basically when there was almost no-one left to play there. He has bags of pace but is sometimes lacking in composure and he doesn’t have much to show in terms of output (goals and assists), kind of similar to Akito Takagi 2-3 years ago. I’m also not sure if there are fitness or attitude problems with him as he’s been on the bench a few times recently with high schoolers in the starting line up and I’ve also seen him subbed off with 30-35 minutes of a game to go when he was playing well. At the moment it’s hard to see him cracking the top team so he may be playing in J3 or JFL next season.

#49 Dai Tsukamoto – centre-forward / left-winger – 18 – Scored a memorable hat-trick against Tottori on his 18th birthday back in June but hasn’t really stepped up since then. He is eligible for a senior contract next year but with the U23 team being dissolved and the first-team squad presumably being a bit smaller I feel he might not quite make it.

Subs: #31 Ken Tajiri (GK), #44 Keishi Murakami (LB), #45 Ko Ise (CM)…Tajiri is at a career crossroads, with no U23 team next year he should leave for another J3 side, although if Hayashi goes out on loan he may stay on as backup. Murakami and Ise are both in high school 2nd grade and play in positions currently well covered in the top team so their futures remain a bit cloudy.

Final Thoughts
Riku Matsuda (centre-back / occasional right-back) is captain of the U23 side and was suspended for this game, I’d like to see him challenge Ryu Takao for a starting place in J1 next season as his leadership and reading of the game have really improved this season. Shoji Toyama (centre-forward) missed the game as he’s currently with Japan U17 at the U17 world cup, he looks a great prospect and has scored 7 goals in just 7 games this year (5 starts 2 sub) including a hat-trick in the 6-0 drubbing of Fukushima last month. He is really composed for a 17 year old and I’m sure good things lie ahead for him (type 2 contract next year, pro contract for 2021).

Regarding the bunch of type-2 players who featured earlier in the season (Hayato Okuda, Naoya Takahashi, Sho Nishimura, Yuto Nagao, Soma Meshino), I’m assuming that they are not playing now due to other commitments in their final year of high school (I could very well be wrong). Out of that group, who are all eligible for senior contracts next year, I’d say right-back Okuda and centre-back / occasional central-midfield Naoya Takahashi were the two players who impressed me most and would be most likely to join Kawasaki in earning their first professional contracts in 2020.

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Weekend round-up

Gamba hold Kawasaki to 2-2 draw, move up to 9th place

Kawasaki came into the game in 4th place looking to close in on a Champions League place for next year while the home side were looking to ease lingering relegation worries. In the end both had to settle for a share of the spoils following an entertaining game.

Gamba, missing both Takashi Usami and Ademilson due to injury, pushed Kosuke Onose into a more attacking role just off veteran striker Kazuma Watanabe. This move paid immediate dividends as Shu Kurata and Onose exchanged passes down the left side and Onose then unleashed a thunderous strike from just outside the area which crashed off of the Kawasaki crossbar, bounced on the line, touched the crossbar again before rebounding to the grateful Watanabe who tapped into an empty net, 1-0 Gamba after just 5 minutes.

Kawasaki quickly settled after their early setback and dominated possession and territory for most of the rest of the half, however, they were unable to find an equaliser with tall Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao (an excellent selection as Gamba always struggle against tall or fast Brazilians – way too much respect given) going closest with a header just wide. Yajima and Ideguchi had half chances for Gamba but in truth Kawasaki would have felt slightly aggrieved not to go in level at half time.

The second half started with a surprise change for Kawasaki, impressive young midfielder Ao Tanaka, fresh from scoring a double for Japan U-22 midweek replacing the versatile Hidemasa Morita in central midfield. The switch seemed to galvanise Frontale and they quickly seized the initiative. On 51 minutes, Damiao nodded down for Ryota Oshima and he slid the ball past Masaak Higashiguchi in the Gamba goal. Just 12 minutes later Damiao was the scorer, Kyohei Noborizato broke down the right and fed the ball to ex-Gamba star Akihiro Ienaga who in turn found Damiao who was allowed to swivel (too easily?) and angle a shot past Higashiguchi. 2-1 to the reigning J1 champions.

Kawasaki’s lead was to be short-lived however, as just 2 minutes later Onose swung in a cross from the right and Kurata placed a beautiful header into the bottom corner, his 7th J1 goal of the current campaign which puts him joint 1st with Ademilson. That goal could be Kurata’s final contribution this season as after connecting he was knocked unconscious by Kawasaki right-back Noborizato who was late arriving for the header. Both players had to be replaced with head injuries and it was later revealed by Gamba that Kurata had suffered a fractured left cheekbone, get well soon Shu!

Akihiro Ienaga had two good chances to win the game late on but was off target on both occasions, while Gamba threw on ex-Frontale forward Patric in place of Watanabe, but to no avail. 2-2 the final score.

The result, coupled with others elsewhere moved Gamba up to 9th in the standings, the first time they’ve been in the top half since their round 4 win over Kawasaki back in March. Victory away to crisis-hit Shonan in 2 weeks would put us 7 points ahead of them with 4 games left to play. Following that up with positive results at home to Sendai (Nov 23) and Matsumoto (Nov 30) would surely secure J1 football for next year.

Information
Gamba Osaka 2-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Panasonic Stadium Suita
Attendance: 25,748
Temp./Humidity: 24.8C / 57%

Gamba Osaka: Masaaki Higashiguchi; Ryu Takao, Genta Miura, Kim Young-gwon; Yuya Fukuda, Shinya Yajima, Yosuke Ideguchi, Hiroki Fujiharu (Markel Susaeta 62′); Kosuke Onose, Shu Kurata (Leo Takae 68′); Kazuma Watanabe (Patric 87′).
Unused Subs: Mizuki Hayashi, Shunya Suganuma, David Concha, Yasuhito Endo.
Goals: Watanabe 5′, Kurata 65′
Assists: Onose 65′
Yellow Cards: Fukuda 90+3′

Kawasaki Frontale: Shota Arai; Kyohei Noborizato (Yasuto Wakizaka 69′), Kazuya Yamamura, Shogo Taniguchi, Shintaro Kurumaya; Hidemasa Morita (Ao Tanaka 46′), Ryota Oshima; Akihiro Ienaga, Kengo Nakamura (Hokuto Shimoda 78′), Tatsuya Hasegawa; Leandro Damiao.
Unused Subs: Jung Sung-ryong, Manabu Saito, Yu Kobayashi, Kei Chinen.
Goals: Oshima 51′, Leandro Damiao 63′
Assists: Leandro Damiao 51′, Ienaga 63′
Yellow Cards: Ienaga 41′, Kurumaya 90+6′

Gamba U23 unable to stop winless run

Gamba U23, who’d stopped the rot of 4 successive defeats with a draw away to Gainare Tottori last week, were unable to go one better against Kamatamare Sanuki and had to once again settle for a point.

No overage players were selected for this game so the starting line up had an average age of just 18 years old and contained a mixture of 6 professionals and 5 high school students. Captain Riku Matsuda made his 50th J3 appearance in this game, while Shohei Ogushi returned at right back and Kohei Okuno moved into his more natural position of central midfield.

The first half was a rather cagey affair with Gamba U23’s best chances coming through free-kicks from Ren Shibamoto and Shuhei Kawasaki. In the end neither side could find the back of the net and it was goalless at the interval.

Gamba U23 rejigged things at half time, replacing central midfielder Ko Ise with the more attacking Dai Tsukamoto, a move that allowed Shibamoto to move into a deeper role alongside Okuno, his best position in my opinion. The substitution quickly paid off as Tsukamoto played the ball through to Shibamoto just inside the box in the 65th minute and he managed to prod the ball past Kenta Shimizu in the Sanuki goal to give the visitors the lead.

The joy from that goal would be short-lived though as Matsuda was sent off for a second bookable offence just three minutes later. This prompted another reshuffle as centre-back Shinri Ono came on for right-winger Jiro Nakamura to try to shore things up at the back. Initially Gamba U23 held out well against the waves of Sanuki attacks that followed but an own goal with just 5 minutes of normal time remaining meant they left Shikoku with just a point and will now head into the home derby match against Cerezo U23 next week aiming to snap a 6 game run without a victory.

Information
Kamatamare Sanuki 1-1 Gamba Osaka U23
Pikara Stadium
Attendance: 1,786
Temp. / Humidity: 23.6C / 41%

Kamatamare Sanuki: Kenta Shimizu; Kenji Arabori, Akira Takeuchi, Shogo Asada, Takuya Nagasawa; Kenshiro Suzuki (Kenta Sawada 85′), Kazumasa Takagi, Hironori Nishi (Ryosuke Kijima 68′), Kentaro Shigematsu, Yuki Morikawa; Yuki Fuke (Tomoya Takeshita 79′).
Unused Subs: Yusuke Akahoshi
Goals: Own goal 85′
Yellow Cards: Takagi 30′, Takeshita 90+4′

Gamba Osaka U23: Kosei Tani; Shohei Ogushi, Riku Matsuda, Hayate Toma, Tatsuya Yamaguchi; Kohei Okuno, Ko Ise (Dai Tsukamoto 46′); Jiro Nakamura (Shinri Ono 70′), Ren Shibamoto, Shuhei Kawasaki; Haruto Shirai (Keishi Murakami 90+2′).
Unused Subs: Wang Xinyu
Goals: Shibamoto 65′
Assists: Tsukamoto 65′
Yellow Cards: Okuno 35′, Matsuda 49′, 68′

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Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka (YBC Levain Cup Semi Final 2nd Leg) Preview

Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo vs Gamba Osaka
YBC Levain Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg
13 October 2019 at 14:00 JST
Sapporo Dome


Gamba take a slender 2-1 advantage into this game following Shu Kurata’s injury time winner at Panasonic Stadium Suita on Wednesday. A draw would be enough to take them through, but both of Wednesday night’s goalscorers, Kurata and Takashi Usami, were quick to point out, when talking to Gamba’s official website, that playing for a draw was not a good strategy to employ against opposition as strong as Consadole. The winning side will play either Kashima Antlers and Kawasaki Frontale on October 26th in Saitama.

Team News:
Gamba are still without South Korean centre-back Kim Young-gwon who is away on international duty, everyone else is ready to play. The only possible changes would be for Yasuhito Endo coming in for Shinya Yajima in the deep-lying playmaker role, while Hiroki Fujiharu could replace Yuya Fukuda and Patric may take the place of his compatriot Ademilson. However, I feel Head Coach Miyamoto is unlikely to tinker too much and we’ll likely see either the same starting line-up as Wednesday or just Endo replacing Yajima,

For Consadole, key attacking midfielder Chanathip was injured and forced to pull out of Thailand’s squad, while 195cm former Cerezo Osaka goalkeeper Gu Sung-yun is away with South Korea ahead of their derby match with North Korea on Tuesday. English striker Jay Bothroyd could come into the starting line-up following a brief substitute appearance on Wednesday.

Prediction:
Gamba have the upper hand in head-to heads this season, leaving Sapporo with a 0-0 draw back in May, before winning the reverse fixture 5-0 just last week. Being a finely balanced cup tie means this could go either way, but Gamba have already used away goals in their favour this year in the quarter-final victory over FC Tokyo. An early Gamba goal would leave Consadole with a mountain to climb and I think that’s what we may see with a second half equaliser leaving the final score 1-1 and Gamba advancing to the final (probably against Kawasaki).

Predicted Gamba Line-up:

GK 1 Masaaki Higashiguchi (33 years old)
CB 27 Ryu Takao (22)
CB 5 Genta Miura (C) (24)
CB 13 Shunya Suganuma (29)
RWB 8 Kosuke Onose (26)
LWB 34 Yuya Fukuda (20)
DM 7 Yasuhito Endo (39)
CM 15 Yosuke Ideguchi (23)
CM 10 Shu Kurata (30)
CF 33 Takashi Usami (27)
CF 9 Ademilson (25)

Subs: 23 Mizuki Hayashi (GK/23), 30 Naoaki Aoyama (CB/33), 4 Hiroki Fujiharu (LB/LWB/30), 21 Shinya Yajima (DM/CM/25), 14 Markel Susaeta (RW/LW/AM/31), 18 Patric (CF/31), 39 Kazuma Watanabe (CF/33)