Rafinha (9) is saluted by teammates Hisato Sato (20) and Shinichi Terada (13, Obscured) after scoring the first of his two penalties in Gamba Osaka's 3-1 AFC Champions League victory over Uzbekistan's Bunyodkor on 3 April. This was Gamba's first win of the season in any competition, and leaves the team in third place in Group E with three matches remaining (Image courtesy AFP)
The first victory of an otherwise miserable season for Gamba Osaka was obtained in wet and windy conditions at the Osaka Expo ’70 Stadium, a 3-1 victory for the home side putting Gamba third in Group E at the halfway stage of the 2012 AFC Champions League group stage. A stunning strike from Yasuhito Endo inside the first quarter of an hour gave Gamba Osaka the lead, and it was one they would further extend with two Rafinha goals in the second half, Anvarjon Soliev pulling one back for the visitors with less than a minute to play. Endo, the 32 year-old midfielder, intercepted a misdirected Anvar Gafurov pass on the Bunyodkor right, and playing a one-two with Rafinha on the edge of the penalty area he placed an exquisite curling shot from 22 yards past Ignatiy Nesterov’s dive into the bottom left-hand corner.
Manager Masanobu Matsunami had made clear in the pre-match build-up that he was seeking all three points available from this tie, and Rafinha gave Gamba a well-deserved cushion with the first of his two spot kicks on 58 minutes. Rafinha attempted to lob a pass for Shu Karata, and Hayrulla Karimov evidently handled leaving referee Chaiya Mahapab no choice but to signal for a penalty. Rafinha calmly stroked home, sending the ball into the bottom right with Nesterov diving the wrong way.
On 82 minutes substitute Hayato Sasaki made a driving run into Bunyodkor’s penalty area. Salomov Shavkat stepped in to win the first challenge, but Akihiro Sato ran on to collect the loose ball and Shavkat’s outstretched leg was enough to send Sato tumbling. Rafinha looked to put the fixture beyond doubt, but this time Nesterov predicted correctly, diving to his right to make an excellent save. However, the referee ordered the penalty to be re-taken after spotting encroachment from Bunyodkor players, and this time Rafhina made no mistake, blasting his shot down the middle of the goal.
There was just time for Bunyodkor to reduce the deficit, a long pass from near halfway by Victor Karpenko flicked into an empty net by Anvarjon Soliev, beating Gamba goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya to the ball after he had unwisely chosen to attempt a punch.
Matsunami was inevitably pleased with the performance, saying:
I am happy with my first win as manager, and this was brought by a team effort.
“This victory gives us three points, which means a lot to us as our group is pretty even and competitive.
“We will play away in Uzbekistan next and that could be a tough game for us. But we won’t rest on this victory but make a step forward to play well in the AFC Champions League and the J.League.
Rafinha 58′ (pen.)
Rafinha 82′ (pen.)
Nagoya Grampus moved to the top of Group G with an emphatic 3-0 win away to China’s Tianjin Teda. Grampus nearly took the lead in the opening minutes of the match, Danilson spotting an excellent run from Keiji Tamada, who took one touch before slamming his shot against the crossbar with goalkeeper Song Zhenyu well beaten. The Nagoya giants only had to wait until midway through the first period to make their mark, however, midfielder Jungo Fujimoto receiving a quick pass on the left-hand side of the penalty area, and dummying defender Li Weifeng, proceeded to place a delightful chip into the bottom right corner of the goal past a hastily backtracking but stranded Zhenyu.
Teda did find the net in the first half, Wang Xinxin collecting a ball to the right of the Grampus 18-yard box before drawing inside and shooting left-footed. Mao Biao controlled and dispatched a shot beyond Seigo Narazaki, but was correctly flagged offside and the goal was disallowed.
Four minutes after the restart Keiji Tamada scored the second for Grampus with another excellent finish. Danilson played a pass out to the right wing for Mu Kanazaki, who crossed to Tamada. The 31 year-old controlled on his chest before volleying expertly with his left foot into the right corner past a stunned Zhenyu.
With 17 minutes left Kensuke Nagai wrapped up proceedings for the visitors. Teda were visibly tiring, and Nagai collected a throughball just outside the penalty area, before slotting a low finish into the bottom left corner. Grampus are two points clear with three matches remaining, and will take some comfort knowing that two games are to be played at the Mizuho Athletic Stadium.
(Matches played 3 April 2012. FC Tokyo and Kashiwa Reysol play their respective Group F and H games on 4 April 2012)