Urawa Reds 3-1 Gamba Osaka
Masaaki Higashiguchi was given the start in goal in this visit to the Asian Champions, while Rihito Yamamoto was handed a rare start in midfield - in place of the absent Neta Lavi - away in Israel for personal reasons, as Gamba looked for the win that their performances have been deserving of recently.
Issam Jebali opened the scoring after an excellent opening period for Gamba, winning the header from the long ball, flicking it to Juan Alano, who then returned it. The Tunisian forward still had plenty to do but turned one way, then the other, then feinted to get the defender to commit before sliding the ball in at the far post to make it 1-0 to the good guys!
Unfortunately a debatable decision from the referees - via the dreaded VAR - when hardly an appeal had even been made, then changed the game, giving Reds a penalty kick just before the break for an accidental handball. The kick was converted and it went in 1-1 at the break. Less than 10 minutes into the 2nd half and the home team were on top, a messy passage of play ending with a fortunate bounce and finish for Atsuki Ito to scramble the ball home, 2-1 to Reds. The Gamba defence then proceeded to add injury to insult, giving the ball away 20 yards out from goal and, while the initial save was good from Higashiguchi, the bounce was again kind to Reds and it was 3-1, Kaito Yasui managing to strike home from the edge of the area. Only the referee knows why he didn't give a foul on the initial "interception", but that's the way the decisions have been going for Gamba this season.
So Gamba went for it, now needing two goals for a point and Jebali should have started the journey back to the draw in the 61st minute but dragged his shot wide when it seemed easier to score, after Gamba forwards had done their own version of the high-counter to win the ball back high up the field. 10 minutes later Gamba should have had another as Riku Handa broke into the area and shot with some force.
The fortunate Shusaku Nishikawa in the home goal knew little about it, as the ball hit him at close range after a deflection, but every save is a good save and Gamba still could not get back into the game despite chances, possession and generally controlling large parts of the game - a familiar story for J1 2023!
Nishikawa continued to earn his salary, next denying Kwon Kyung-won's header from a free kick and the clock slowly ran down to give Urawa Reds the win. Substitute Jose Kante had the ball in the net in the final minute of play but it was obviously offside, but was maybe the highlight for Reds in the final "quarter" of this game as they held off Gamba for the points.
Team - Higashiguchi, Handa, Fukuoka, Kwon, Kurokawa (Miura, 87'), R.Yamamoto (Kurata, 63'), Dawhan, Usami (Suzuki, 63'), Juan Alano (Ishige, 87'), Jebali, Meshino (Sugiyama, 63')
Scorer: Issam JEBALI 23'