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2019.12.9

Urawa Reds 2-3 Gamba Osaka

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Gamba Osaka took three deserved points at perennial rivals Urawa Reds on the final day of the J1 season, thus ending their campaign in 7th place - a long way from the relegation places (16 points from the bottom two) but well away from the top three and a place in 2020's Asian Champions League (also a 16-point gap to the top three), which must be the team's minimum aim if ambition is to be shown.

This particular trip to Reds left the travelling fans with good memories to end the season, as goals from Takashi Usami, Ademilson and substitute Yuya Fukuda gave the away team maximum points. Usami opened the scoring as early as the 9th minute, deftly stroking a right-footed shot into the top corner after a run from Ademilson and then a pass inside from the Brazilian forward. Gamba could well have doubled their lead soon after when Reds' 'keeper Shusaku Nishikawa made an initial save from Ademilson in a one-on-one situation and then smothered the follow-up shot. The game stayed 0-1 at the break.

Tomoaki Makino kept his team in the game eight minutes into the 2nd half with a clearance off the line with his goalkeeper beaten and it started to look as if Gamba would not get the win they so richly deserved, especially when Yosuke Kashiwagi stroked home a free kick to pull the home team level in the 62nd minute. The away team replied quickly to the blow of conceding, though, and minutes later were ahead again, Ademilson twisting and firing in a shot on the turn after Genta Miura's header from a corner came at him with his back to goal.

Gamba continued to control the game but the one-goal lead looked fragile at times and it was down to Fukuda - only on the field for two minutes - to extend Gamba's lead and make the game safe, taking down a long ball from the defence superbly with his chest, and converting the bouncing ball for the 3-1 lead in the 88th minute. Fukuda's superb finish proved to be a vital match-winner as Reds pulled a goal back through Fabrizio in the 90th minute, but it was too little, too late for Reds as Gamba took the win and ended their season with a deserved three points.

2019 saw 54 league goals scored - a total bettered by only three J1 teams - but the 48 goals conceded was the key to many dropped points and must be bettered in 2020. A top seven finish is nothing to be dismissed, and plenty of youngsters were given time - and debuts - in the 2019 campaign. Manager Tsuneyasu Miyamoto must now get the backing of the club's powers-that-be to get the players he needs to bring silverware to the club next season. Watch this space.

Sadly, in 2020, due to J.League decisions, a huge part of the club's development policy - the Under 23 team - will not be playing in J3 next season. The Gamba faithful will be hoping that whatever replaces the J3 matches will be enough to continue to help produce players like Ryotaro Meshino, Keita Nakamura, Yuya Fukuda, Takahiro Ko, Kazunari Ichimi, Akito Takagi, Leo Takae and Ryu Takao. Good development games will be the key to Gamba's future, and continued and progressive player development is a must.

Team - Higashiguchi, Miura, Suganuma, Kim, Onose, Fujiharu, Yajima, Endo, Kurata (Fukuda, 86), Ademilson (Patric, 76), Usami (Takagi, 88)

Scorers;
Takashi USAMI 9'
ADEMILSON 64'
Yuya FUKUDA 88'