KOBE – High-flying Gamba Osaka stayed on course for their first J. League title in six years with a resounding 4-0 win over local rivals Vissel Kobe on Sunday.
Rafinha was the architect behind Gamba’s third win in a row, the Brazilian striker setting up goals for Takuya Takei, Kim Seung Yong and Lee Keun Ho in a one-sided affair at Home’s Stadium. Takahiro Futagawa sealed victory in second-half injury time to keep Gamba top of the table going into the international break.
Gamba improved to 50 points with 10 games left in the season, one point ahead of reigning champion Nagoya Grampus, which came from a goal down to hammer Ventforet Kofu 4-1 at home, Jungo Fujimoto grabbing a goal in each half and Keiji Tamada scoring a stunning equalizer for his 11th of the season.
A late double from Junya Tanaka saw Kashiwa Reysol rebound from a midweek 2-0 defeat against Gamba with a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Kawasaki Frontale that keeps them within three points of the leaders.
Gamba had plenty moments of menace around the Kobe area in the first half of its match and deservedly took the lead when midfielder Takei side-footed home Rafinha’s ball across the area in the 28th minute.
“Rafinha set me up with a great ball and I was able to keep calm and put it away,” said Takei. “I was playing at side back in the last game but was in the middle of the park this time so I wanted to get involved up front as well as defend.”
Rafinha will perhaps feel he ought to have done better with a chance of his own that sailed harmlessly over after he had got himself into a promising position as halftime approached.
Rafinha was a constant thorn in Kobe’s side and he was again the provider for Gamba’s second, South Korean midfielder Kim getting a great first touch on his through ball before keeping his head to slot past Kenta Tokushige in the Vissel goal in the 55th minute.
Gamba had valid claims for a penalty waved away by referee Minoru Tojo after television replays showed Hiroto Mogi pulling Rafinha down by his shirt, but Lee ended the game as a contest on 70 minutes when he raced onto Rafinha’s pass and drilled into the right-hand corner. Futagawa completed the rout from another neatly worked move in the fourth minute of injury time.
“Hopefully we can stay ahead of the pack. I definitely think we are going to win the championship,” said Takei.
In other games, Yasushi Endo and Yuzo Tashiro both helped themselves to a brace each as Kashima Antlers thrashed bottom club Avispa Fukuoka 6-0, while an injury time strike from Shu Kurata wrapped up a 3-1 win for Cerezo Osaka at home to Urawa Reds.