Gamba Osaka will be eliminated at the group stage of the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2006 if they fail to defeat Pohang Steelers on Matchday Five, as they slumped to a 3-2 loss against Uzbeskistan’s Bunyodkor in Tashkent which leaves the Osaka giants at the bottom of Group E on three points.
Kamoliddin Murzoev put the reigning Uzbek League champions ahead on 15 minutes, the forward slipping away from defender Sota Nakazawa all too easily to head home a sweeping Victor Karpenko cross from the Bunyodkor right. The Swallows’ were pegged back five minutes later, a fierce twenty-yard drive from the left edge of the penalty area whistling past the dive of Ignatiy Nesterov after good work from Takahiro Futagawa, and then only the woodwork first prevented Futagawa from giving Gamba the lead after he saw his sliding shot strike the underside of the crossbar and bounce away, followed by Hayato Sasaki finding the outside of the post with Nesterov well-beaten.
Instead it would be the home side who regained the advantage two minutes before the interval. Emil Kenzhissariyev crossed from the left, and with Yasuyuki Konno failing to make even the barest of challenges, Lutfulla Turaev placed a looping header over Yosuke Fujigaya into the bottom left corner. Gamba pressed for an equaliser in an open second period, but substitute Anvarjon Soliev would give Bunyodkor some breathing space with six minutes of normal time remaining, racing on to a long ball from Karpenko having beaten the offside trap and rolling the ball past Fujigaya into the net.
There was just time for Shinichi Terada to add a second for the visitors. Paulinho’s initial corner was returned to him, and his second cross found the head of the substitute who made no mistake with a glancing header from six yards. The goal would be the last action of the match, however, and the result in Uzbekistan means that a season which was expected to be full of riches now shows little promise. Manager Masanobu Matsunami tried to put a positive spin on the match, saying:
It was a difficult game for us and unfortunately we lost. But I am proud of the players as they battled until the last second of the match … We played well, but we did not have any luck. Now we are in last place in the group and it will be very difficult for us, but we will fight to the end. A loss to Bunyodkor does not mean that everything is over for us.
Gamba, however, travel to the Pohang Steel Yard for the fixture against the 2011 K-League Runners-up on 2 May, and will do very well to come away with the victory that will provide a stay of execution until the final round of matches, against a side which defeated them 3-0 at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium on Matchday One.