Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gamba Osaka 1 at Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0 - Nabisco Cup QF - September 1, 2010

The J League is taking a break from its regular season schedule for the first rounds of the Emperor's Cup as well as the quarterfinals of the Nabisco Cup. The first leg of the latter competition was played yesterday and one of the matches featured Gamba Osaka and Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

For both teams, it was their first match in the tournament as they had both qualified for the AFC Champions League and therefore received a bye to the quarter final. For me, it was a chance to see Hiroshima's Big Arch Stadium and get a start on a long sports weekend.

Hiroshima Big Arch

Located about 35 minutes from downtown Hiroshima, the Big Arch is a multi-purpose stadium that was opened in 1992. You can get there by taking the Astram Line train from downtown to the final station, Koiki-koen-mae or there are shuttle buses from Yokogawa station. The Astram line does have the advantage of having a 600 yen "Sanfrecce Supporters' Ticket" that allows unlimited rides from 4 hours before the game until the end of the day and is the cheapest way to get there and back. The stadium is a 5-minute walk from the station although there are free shuttle buses there that take you right up to the parking lot. These buses are not available after the game though.

From the parking lot, you walk up a tree-lined path to the main gate, shown below. However, the actual entrance is around the back of the stadium.

As it is used for other events, there is a track circling the field, which puts the seats far away from the action. It still seems smaller than the National Stadium though and I was happy with the view. As in most J.League stadiums, there are a few reserved seats (in pink in the picture below) on one half on the stadium, while the rest are unreserved benches. The Big Arch refers to a large canopy that covers the south side (shown below) and it is here where the reserved seats are located. The north side is called the backstand and it is here where the supporters sit. It's 1,000 yen cheaper than the reserved seats and I recommend sitting on this side as you can choose exactly where you want to sit.

There are various food options like fried chicken or noodles, but you're better off eating before or after the game in one of Hiroshima's many great restaurants.

Overall, the stadium is in a nice location but doesn't offer anything special on the inside. Still, I found it comfortable and a good place to watch the game and would say that if you are in town at the same time as Sanfrecce, it is worth visiting.

The Game

The Nabisco Cup is not a big draw in Japan, as evidenced by the few Osaka fans in attendance.

Gamba were lying 6th in the J League table while Hiroshima was 9th - both teams had 9 wins out of 21 games but Gamba had drawn 7 to Hiroshima's 5. The big news before the game was Gamba's best player and Japanese national team member Yasuhito Endo being sidelined with a calf injury.

When the players were introduced, the supporters unfurled a huge banner that covers the fans in the middle of the backstand, which is where I was sitting. It's interesting as it moves up and down but claustrophobes might not appreciate it.

Sanfrecce kicked off and started quickly, getting a long through ball to an open forward whose shot was parried over by Osaka keeper Yosuke Fujigaya in the first 10 seconds. They continued to try this strategy, sending long balls deep but they couldn't generate any more chances. Gamba eventually adjusted and the match settled into a back-and-forth pattern with few memorable moments.

Late in the half, Hiroshima midfielder Yojiro Takahagi was found completely uncovered in the box but his header missed terribly to keep the game scoreless at halftime.

Osaka took control in the second stanza though, attacking directly and generating a number of good opportunities. Early on Hiroshima's keeper Shusaku Nishikawa mishandled a cross and the ball fell to Lucas (above) waiting on the left side, but he drove it wide. A few minutes later, Sanfrecce gave the ball away just outside the box and Nishikawa was forced to make a great save off Tomokazu Myojin.

Takahiro Futagawa with a free kick

But Osaka's pressure forced Sanfrecce into many more giveaways and it was just a matter of time before they scored. Sure enough, in the 66th minute, Lucas found himself at the top of the box. He did a little stutter step, turned and shot weakly. But Nishikawa was going the wrong way and couldn't recover as the ball slid just beyond his outstretched hand, brushing the inside of the post and giving Osaka the deserved lead.

Gamba continued to pressure, generating a couple of chances before Sanfrecce made their final substitution, bringing on Croatian Mihael Mikic who was an energetic addition to the midfield. He danced up and down the right flank but was unable to create good chances as the Osaka defenders were equal to the task. That's Mikic below sending a ball through.

As time wound down, Hiroshima tried to find the equalizer and although they came close, the ball stayed out of the net. The final whistle sounded and Osaka were happy with the 1-0 road win.

The teams play the second leg next Wednesday in Osaka. Hiroshima will need to take better care of the ball in that one if they are to have any hope of coming back.

9/8 Update: The second leg was held tonight and Hiroshima defeated Gamba 2-1 to advance on the away goals rule! They will play Shimizu S Pulse in one semi final while Kawasaki Frontale takes on Jublio Iwata in the other. The first leg is September 29 while the second is October 10. Here's hoping Sanfrecce and Frontale meet in the final on November 3rd.

Next Up

Three games this weekend with Hanshin visiting the Carp at Mazda Stadium. I'll have a summary of the series next week. I also saw an unbelievably long minor league game today and will have a post on that shortly.



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