Gamba Osaka ensured that they didn’t fall to their third consecutive J.League Division 1 defeat at home with a 3-2 win over Kawasaki Frontale at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, and preserved their excellent league record over the visitors, with seven wins and just a single defeat to show in ten matches. However, Gamba manager Masanobu Matsunami would be wise to cast a critical eye over the errors which led to Frontale scoring twice, and most particularly a porous defensive line which continues to cough up goals at a rate of more than two per game. Stronger attacking sides will delight in the room the Kanagawa Prefecture outfit were able to exploit both in front of the back four and on the wings, the two goals the visitors notched on their trip to Suita testament to the generosity shown by Gamba given they had previously scored just three times in total in the 2012 campaign.
Kawasaki Frontale were ahead inside the first minute. From the kick-off, the ball was received by Renato, who fed Takanobu Komiyama on the Frontale left. He guided a cross into the penalty area where it was met by Yusuke Tasaka, and although his header was true under pressure from Sota Nakazawa, it should have been saved by a stationary Yosuke Fujigawa, passing close to his body.
Although behind after just twenty seconds, the goal failed to rock Gamba, who of the two sides settled more quickly and played the most searching football. Rafinha, in one of his few significant contributions to this match, trapped a long ball from defence on four minutes, and with little support from his teammates, embarked on a mazy run along the Gamba left trailed by three Frontale defenders. He managed to get his shot away from a very tight angle, but the ball was collected low to his right by Yohei Nishibe. Two minutes later he had an excellent opportunity to level, but while Shu Kurata’s intelligent pass found him in space to the right of Frontale’s penalty area, what should have been a one-on-one situation with Nishibe instead became a cross-shot following a poor first touch that forced him wide of goal.
With a quarter of an hour gone the match had settled into a pattern of Gamba enjoying the majority of possession and probing the organised Frontale lines for holes, the away side happy to cede territory for the opportunity to counter-attack, tactics which for most of the first period favoured Tatsuya Mochizuki’s men. Gamba, while enjoying plenty of ball and pressure around the penalty area created little of note, finding their set pieces in dangerous areas and corner kicks for the most part cleared with the minimum of effort by Frontale, and the roughly 17,000 spectators seeing little penetration in the final third of the field.
On 30 minutes, Frontale stunned the home support and struck again. Turning provider and taking their very first corner, goalscorer Tasaka drifted a ball into the penalty area. Gamba had chosen not to post players to each upright, and with Yu Kobayashi losing marker Hiroki Fujiharu far too easily, he had the simplest of headers from eight yards. The complexion of the first half changed accordingly. Frontale settled into a passing rhythm which had evaded them for much of the season to date, and on 33 minutes a beautiful passing move started within their own half ended with Renato receiving a pass from Kengo Nakamura, his shot blocked for a corner. Poor marking again meant Tasaka’s dead ball found a teammate, but fortuitously for Gamba it was directed straight at Fujigawa.
It would be five minutes before half-time that Gamba pressed again, and with seconds remaining they found a way in to a match from another error, this time from Yohei Nishibe. Teammate Takanobu Komiyama needlessly conceded a free-kick to the left of his penalty area, and Yasuhito Endo delivered a cross into the penalty area. Nishibe failed to get much distance on his punch, and it dropped to a Gamba player on the edge of the area. Fed out wide to Yasuyuki Konno, the defender lobbed a left-footed ball back into the 18-yard box, and Nishibe chose to leave his line but was beaten to the path of the ball by Sota Nakazawa, his header finding the empty net.
The second period began largely in the same way as the first had ended, Gamba seeing plenty of the ball and Frontale defending in numbers, the home side still failing to create clear cut opportunities in front of goal. Rafinha was a particular culprit, on 52 minutes sending a shot several feet over the crossbar and then two minutes later, with Frontale players out of position, a cross reached him in plenty of space in the penalty area, but let down by poor control once more, he was eventually crowded out and the attack broke down.
Frontale were still looking comfortable, but after Renato had created two chances for himself, neither of which troubled Fujigaya, Gamba were on equal terms on 68 minutes. Breaking quickly, Horoki Fujiharu was sent racing down the left wing, and close to the goalline he whipped a superb low ball back across the penalty area. Akihiro Sato timed his late run into the box perfectly, and he struck first time without breaking stride and sent the ball past Nishibe.
The second goal seemed to spur Frontale in action, and they came very close to immediately taking the advantage again on 69 minutes. Yu Kobayashi, who would be substituted a minute later, mis-timed a volley which a diving Fujiyama palmed past his right post at full stretch, when a clean strike would almost certainly have found the net. The substitution of Renato on 73 minutes was tactically minded, Mochizuki identifying a clear deficiency in Gamba’s defence in their ability to deal with set pieces. The introduction of the tallest player in either squad, Rui Komatsu, came as no surprise.
Despite Komatsu taking the field, it was Gamba who came closest to scoring the third goal. 13 minutes remained of normal time when Endo delivered a deep cross from the right beyond the Frontale defence to the waiting Sota Nakazawa. Stationed to the left of the six yard box, and choosing not to shot, he delicately chipped the ball back which the stretching Akihiro Sato narrowly missed. Gamba were not to be denied, however, and with six minutes of normal time remaining their comeback was complete, once again Yohei Nishibe making a mistake in the Frontale goal. Akira Kaji smartly stole the ball midway inside Frontale’s half, and his low cross was met first time by substitute Hiroyuki Abe. While Abe’s shot was weak, Nishibe somehow contrived to allow the ball to roll under his body and into his net. Gamba would then cleverly eke out the remaining minutes until referee Hiroyuki Kimura signalled for full-time, but whether this victory promises to be the start of a Gamba recovery or is merely a false dawn will depend heavily on how Masanobu Matsunami chooses to address worrying signs at the back.
|Gamba Osaka||Kawasaki Frontale|
|Sota Nakazawa||45+1||Yusuke Tasaka||1|
|Akihiro Sato||68||Yu Kobayashi||30|
|Yasuhito Endo||32||Shun Morishita||36|
|Akira Kaji||89||Takanobu Komiyama||45|