Gamba Osaka host Guangzhou Evergrande in the second leg of their Asian Champions League Semi Final tonight. The first leg ending 2-1 in favour of the Chinese club, Gamba now needs just a 1-0 victory to take their place in the ACL Final alongside Al Ahli of UAE.
Since their loss to Evergrande in China, Kenta Hasegawa’s men suffered two more defeats in succession. In one, a depleted Gamba lost 2-1 to struggling Albirex Niigata in Japan’s version of the League Cup, while the other loss saw them ship five goals to 7th placed Kawasaki Frontale.
The Kansai club have since won their next two outings. Correcting their first leg loss to Niigata they advanced to the final of the aforementioned Cup competition with a 2-0 victory, before a 2-1 win over old foes Urawa.
Importantly in the context of tonight’s fixture, the clean sheet against Niigata was Gamba’s first in ten matches. Can we expect the entertainers to get down and gritty against the Chinese Super League’s champions elect? Probability says no.
But for their part Guangzhou Evergrande aren’t exactly a tower of strength either. In their eleven ACL fixtures in 2015, Evergrande have scored 18 goals and conceded 14. More than a goal per match.
KEY PLAYERS FOR THE HOME TEAM
Gamba Osaka will be buoyed by the return of regular centre back Daiki Niwa. The 29 year old was missing for the first leg due to suspension but is back for the home tie and sure add some assuredness to the backline.
Gamba will also look for a bigger contribution from attacking midfielder Takashi Usami who was substituted in the 74th minute of the first leg. The match had started with both sides showing equal intent, however, 25-30 minutes into the match things changed.
THE FIRST LEG
Gamba were ahead via a Feng Xiaoting own goal (12th min) and the Japanese club were content to sit back and rarely send men forward in meaningful assaults on goal – totally out of character. Gamba conceded through a superb half volley from Huang, Bowen before an equally brilliant header from captain Zheng, Zhi in the 57th minute.
The post match statistics were damning for Gamba Osaka. Evergrande firing off an incredible 22 shots to Gamba’s miserly 3. Being hosts those statistics should change, but will it be enough?