Gamba Osaka’s Asian Champions League (ACL) hopes are hanging by a thread, and they need to order a pint of victory at the last chance saloon.
It all looked so good for Gamba when they thumped tonight’s opponents Adelaide United 3-0 in Australia back in February, but since then the Osaka club has lost three on the spin – including home defeats against Jiangsu & a 1-4 capitulation at home to Jeju United. They currently sit bottom of the table on three points, but Jiangsu’s dominance of the group has meant that no other team has made hay. Instead, what we have is Adelaide & Jeju level on four points, with Gamba propping up the table, but only a point behind.
Should Kenta Hasegawa’s men lose tonight in Suita, they will be eliminated and will be able to focus their attentions on the J.League. A win tonight will see them leapfrog Adelaide and set up a final day showdown between them & Jeju which would likely see the winner go through.
Why have Gamba been so bad? Difficult to answer because I’m not sure many people saw their home humbling against Jeju coming. They were woeful that night at Suita Stadium, but Jeju were ruthless and put them to the sword. The defeat at home against Jiangsu was a tight affair settled by a solitary moment of class from Jiangsu midfielder Ramires, his beautiful strike from the edge of the area showing what $25m + gets you, while the away leg was one where Gamba were out of it pretty early on.
Gamba’s league form, in contrast to their ACL form, has been very good and they come into this crucial fixture having dispatched J1’s bottom side Omiya Ardija 6-0 last Friday night. Currently, they sit second in the table, four points behind leaders Urawa and have been beaten just once in the league so far (a 0-1 home defeat by Sanfrecce Hiroshima).
The transition away from legend Yasuhito Endo is well underway, with Yosuke Ideguchi quickly becoming one of the league’s outstanding midfielders, and fellow Gamba youth prospect Ritsu Doan making waves the more he plays in the team, showing his fleet of touch and finishing ability as he scored two goals against Omiya. Gamba have transitioned to a three centre back system this year – the home defeat against Jeju being the first real time they tried it in a competitive game – and I’d expect them to line up the same tonight.
“We have to take our momentum from (last Friday’s) Omiya game into this one” coach Kenta Hasegawa said. “Even though we have lost the last three, we still have a chance to qualify. That is what we should focus on, not the previous results.” Coach speak, as usual, but underlining the point that no matter how badly they’ve played up to this point (and let’s face it, Gamba haven’t played that well) it is still in their hands to ensure qualification. They could do with a helping hand from Jiangsu, but Gamba must take care of their own business first, and that means getting three points against Adelaide United tonight.