KASHIMA, Ibaraki Pref. — Gamba Osaka survived a first-half injury to goalkeeper Yosuke Fujigaya to claim a point from a scrappy 0-0 draw against Kashima Antlers on Saturday.
Fujigaya left the field on a stretcher after injuring his shoulder with half an hour on the clock, but replacement Naoki Matsuyo came off the bench to give an assured performance in his first appearance of the season in blustery conditions at Kashima Stadium.
Sloppy finishing by both teams also helped make sure the game stayed goalless, giving J. League leader Nagoya Grampus Eight a bigger cushion at the top after its 3-2 win over JEF United Chiba earlier in the day.
Matsuyo pulled off an excellent save from Antlers striker Marquinhos minutes into the second half, and Gamba manager Akira Nishino paid tribute to the 34-year-old’s professionalism after the match.
“He’s always a leader, even though he’s only the backup ‘keeper at the moment,’ Nishino said. “He can always be relied upon. He still plays an influential role even though he doesn’t always play, and he’s a central part of the team.”
Antlers manager Oswaldo Oliveira was more concerned by his team’s inability to convert its chances.
“Unfortunately we lost two points that we could have won,” he said.
“I think we deserved to win, but you know Osaka is a very strong side, too. We had much more chances to score, but they had good chances, too. You have to respect them. The opponents are good, and that’s football.”
Antlers have taken one point from their last two games after a previously perfect start to the season, but their bid to retain the title will be helped by the return of former player Koji Nakata.
The club announced the former national team defender-cum-midfielder will move from Swiss side FC Basel when his contract runs out on June 30, after 3 1/2 years in Europe that also included an unhappy stint under former national team manager Philippe Troussier at Marseille.
Oliveira, however, admitted he had not heard about the transfer until after Saturday’s match, and has seen the 28-year-old only in snatches of video footage.
“I haven’t been told anything yet so I can’t talk about it,’ the manager said. “In Brazil I always used to say I don’t talk about a player until I see him play in my jersey.”
Gamba made a bright start to the game, with striker Bare and midfield schemer Takahiro Futagawa looking dangerous as the visitors’ neat passing game put the champions on the back foot.
But Kashima’s relentless tackling soon suffocated the midfield supply line, and almost pressured Sota Nakazawa into bundling the ball into his own net in the 17th minute.
Matters were further complicated when Fujigaya left the field, but looking to attack as the best way to protect substitute Matsuyo, Gamba went on the offensive.
Bare and Lucas both had good chances to break the deadlock, before Bare found himself unmarked at the back post on the stroke of halftime only to hit his shot straight at Antlers goalkeeper Hitoshi Sogahata.
Matsuyo was called into action seconds after the second half began, parrying a powerful drive from Marquinhos, before Tashiro headed straight at the substitute ‘keeper from inside the box.
Kashiwa blasts Verdy
Keisuke Ota scored twice as Kashiwa Reysol routed Tokyo Verdy 5-1 on Saturday, while Yuji Nakazawa snatched a late equalizer to rescue a point for Yokohama F. Marinos in a 1-1 draw at home to Shimizu S-Pulse.
In other games, Yasuyuki Konno sealed a 4-2 win for FC Tokyo at home to Kawasaki Frontale, Albirex Niigata beat Kyoto Sanga 1-0 to pick up their first win of the season, and Vissel Kobe drew with Consadole Sapporo 1-1.