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J1 Season Opener
Gamba's Kaji goal vs Reds, Round 1(Click photo to enlarge)
J1 Round 1 Saturday

Gamba Osaka 1-1 Urawa Reds
UR: Washington, 2 min
GO: Kaji, 67 min

We had only the one season opener game Saturday (the other 8 games will take place today) between Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds. Despite the fact that we already saw this match-up only last weekend for the >>Xerox Super Cup, the tickets were sold out in advance of gameday. And I guess not surprising considering the two teams involved. The stands were filled with the passionate supporters -- Urawa there to see their team repeat the multiple-goal performance of last weekend against the league champs, and Gamba home crowds not about to back down in an opportunity to see their team get revenge.

Gamba manager Nishino had been mumbling some concerns about the direction and readiness of his team for the past couple weeks, but it seems his aggressive attitude about attack will continue to be a character of the Gamba philosophy.

The first half started off with visible awkwardness from a Gamba squad still not feeling comfortable in their new 4-4-2 formation. And during that period of discomfort, Reds easily got their first goal at 2 mins. A pass from Ponte to Yamada allowed them to break through the side and send in a cross targeted for Washington. It was an easy goal for the big Brazilian to head in.

I'm not sure exactly what psychology was at work on the Gamba side, because this somewhat shocking start to their first game of the season could have had disastrous results if the mood of the team had gone south. However, we almost forget this is Gamba we are talking about, a group of players familiar with allowing goals but also more than familiar with not letting that easily sway their confidence.

Gamba stayed patient, and seemed to be feeling their way around the game, executing small adjustments through the course of the game -- things like positioning/distances between players and attack variation. They found stability in their midfield (where Endo, Hashimoto, and Myojin control the pivoting between defense and offense), and gradually found the rhythm.

Urawa on the other hand seemed to only be able to react to Gamba's growing confidence by pulling back. Even their attack was one-dimensional, using too many long balls. Though they did have Washington as a target up front, it was clearly not enough. And, definitely not what Urawa are all about. The players were aware of their problems but could not come out of halftime with any change.

Gamba on the other hand, were getting pumped by boss Nishino in the lockerrooms to be more aggressive when on the attack. He told the team they were playing too careful, too intellectual, that he wanted more fire from them. In particular he told the sides they needed to push forward more.

And in response to those words, new acquisition Akira Kaji went forward more, overlapping frequently to inhabit the opponent area. Left sideback Ienaga was also making more effort to go up as well, and these two sides began to tangle more fluidly with their teammates.

The equalizer came at 67 mins, when Futagawa flipped a pass past the defense line to the right where Kaji broke through, trapped with his chest, faked out Reds left side Santos, and took a left-footed shot. It was Kaji's first league goal in about 4 years. It was a really nice heartily-taken shot.

After that, the battle evened out more, and we saw several shots where the ball just scraped outside the goalframe -- shots by Reds' Hasebe and Gamba's Magno Alves especially stick in my mind. The 3 points could have gone to either side in any moment, and maybe the 1 point each was a reasonable result for both teams given that they were both not as good as they could be. But definitely gave us something to look forward to in the season.
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2006/03/06(月) 02:45:32 | | #[ Edit]
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