When FC Gifu hosted Gamba Osaka recently it was always going to be a mismatch, but should it have been that bad…?
‘G’ seemed to be the letter of the day a couple of Wednesday’s ago, and it was grey and gloomy as I pulled into Nagoya station on my way to Gifu against Gamba – bottom against top in J2.
I was told by a Gifu-supporting friend on the way to the ground to expect goals, too, with Gamba unsurprisingly prolific at the top of J2 and the home side also enjoying something of a glut in recent games having won three of their last four 2-1, 4-3, and 2-1, as well as losing the other 4-0.
Even so, while the encounter always looked likely to be something of a mismatch I never thought I’d be seeing a new J2 total goals record on my first trip to the better-than-I-expected Nagaragawa Stadium.
Anything other than a Gamba win would certainly have been a shock, but having seen the similarly unfashionable Gainare Tottori battle to a 1-1 draw with the former J1 and AFC champions League winners at Banpaku back in March I didn’t think Kenta Hasegawa’s men would have things all their own way in front of what turned out to be a record home attendance of 11,719 for Gifu.
Indeed, as the clouds which had been threatening for hours finally vent forth their fury as kick-off approached it seemed as though Gamba didn’t really fancy it. While the Gifu players began their warm-up on the pitch in the torrential rain the visitors continued to jog around under the main stand, occasionally glancing tentatively out at the elements and then thinking better of it and remaining sheltered from them, not emerging for a good 10 minutes after their hosts.
They may be overwhelming favourites to win the league and make a swift return to J1, I thought, but could they do it on a wet Wednesday night in Gifu?
Yes, actually, they could.
“Gamba Invasion” was how the game had been marketed to the locals, with the promotion focusing heavily on the fact that the guests had a large number of “national team class” players, and although in actuality they only currently have two Japan regulars seven of Gamba’s starting eleven were in their first spell in J2 while Gifu had just one – and that wasn’t because Taiuske Mizuno had played higher up the ladder but because he was a 20-year-old rookie.
It turned out that he and his teammates were just as in awe of their opponents as those in the stands, and it took just a couple of minutes for a slick, almost half-hearted, passing move to free Paulinho inside the Gifu box to get the scoring started.
The scoreboard operator’s work was only just beginning and six minutes later Takahiro Futagawa was capitalizing on more substandard defending to double Gamba’s lead and effectively end the tie as a contest.
In keeping with the day’s alphabetical theme a goalkeeper was soon in the spotlight as a howler by Shogo Tokihisa allowed Gamba to move three ahead, the 29-year-old – who came into the game having stopped five penalties thus far this season – miserably allowing a tame Futagawa effort to elude his grasp and trickle over the line.
After the match Gamba boss Hasegawa confessed that he’d been expecting more of a challenge from the hosts – who eventually fell to a quite ludicrous 8-2 defeat – with the minnows having made Gamba work for their win earlier in the season at Banpaku, losing just 2-0, the second goal of which came in the last minute. He credited the strong start as key this time around, and the early goal really did seem to take the wind out of Gifu.
The gulf in quality was embarrassing, and the difference between the bigger sides that drop down to J2 from the first division and those battling to stay in existence is plain for all to see, but I can’t help but feel that Gifu could have approached the game a little differently.
It seemed to me as if the club had treated it almost as an exhibition and this must have filtered through to the players. Instead of being swept up in the glamour they could perhaps have done with some more guts and gaman.