They’ve won the Yamazaki Nabisco Cup, they now lead the J-League, and they’re set to face second tier Montedio Yamagata in the Emperor’s Cup Final. Though nothing is guaranteed in Japanese soccer, Gamba Osaka’s treble is as good a certainty that ‘the land of the rising sun can offer’.
Gamba Osaka’s story is a tale of two seasons. Prior to the mid season break the blue half of Osaka were mired in the relegation zone, 14 points off competition leaders Urawa. During the World Cup though, 27 year old Brazilian Patric was signed. Along with the return to fitness of Takashi Usami whose first starting appearance was in round 12, the Brazilian led Gamba on an unimaginable run of form, that will ultimately lead to J-League glory.
Patric has picked up nine goals in his 18 J-League matches. The Brazilian taking no time to adapt, partly due to his previous experience in Japan in 2013. Unlike the svelte figure of most, this Brazilian has a physical presence (think Hulk). At 189cm Patric has been the perfect foil for the likes of Usami and Shu Kurata.
Though nothing should be taken away from Gamba Osaka, last Saturday will also be remembered as the final act in one of the J-League’s great capitulations.
Urawa led the J-League from round 19; around the time title challengers Sagan Tosu inexcusably sacked their manager. Ironically it was the Kyushu club that broke Reds hearts last weekend, with a last gasp equaliser to allow Gamba Osaka to go top of the league on for and against.
Urawa had gone ahead early in the second half on the back of a penalty. As a result Sagan Tosu were down to ten men, and things were looking rosy for the Reds. But in a nightmarish finale, Japan’s biggest club conceded a corner, and then, virtually conceded the title.
The twitter-sphere almost broke down in the aftermath. J-League fans the world over looked to commiserate, or with words annihilate. The highlight for me being Barry Valder’s work.
Now, in what seems a foregone conclusion, Gamba Osaka is tasked with taking three points on the road at relegation consigned Tokushima.
Meanwhile, the Reds have to beat Nagoya while carrying the psychological baggage of seven days ago. It just won’t happen.
But as per usual in the J-League there is a joker in the pack. For the title race is a ‘three horse’ race, with Kashima Antlers poised just two points from the summit and ready to pounce on any slip ups from the aforementioned.
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