NIIGATA – Striker Takayuki Nakahara completed a miserable week for Gamba Osaka with a sublime first-half strike to give Albirex Niigata a surprise 1-0 home win in the J. League on Sunday.
Nakahara’s effort against the run of play denied Gamba the chance to reclaim top spot in the first division and added to the visitor’s disappointment of a midweek defeat that severely dented its hopes of a place in the Asian Champions League quarterfinals.
Despite the loss, Gamba remained second in the table on 22 points from 10 games, one behind Urawa Reds, while Niigata climbed into eighth on 16 points.
Looking to rebound from Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat to Chinese side Dalian Shide, defending champion Gamba dominated the first half but was repeatedly frustrated by a well organized Niigata back line.
In-form striker Magno Alves twice tested Takashi Kitano in the first 15 minutes but Gamba was unable to make a breakthrough and Niigata got what turned out to be the winner with its only real chance of the half just before the interval.
Nakahara collected a pass from Yoshito Terakawa just outside the box and turned inside Satoshi Yamaguchi before uncorking a superb left-footed drive to give Yosuke Fujigaya no chance in the Gamba goal.
“Gamba is a tough side to play against and it was just a case of us being patient and trying to hold out,” said match-winner Nakahara, who also scored the winner in Niigata’s Nabisco Cup win at Shimizu S-Pulse on Wednesday.
“But we can’t be satisfied just with this win. We have to aim higher and hopefully we can win our last two league games before the World Cup break.”
In the day’s other match, Jubilo Iwata sentenced Ventforet Kofu to its third defeat in four matches as goals from Fabricio and Ryoichi Maeda gave Masakuni Yamamoto’s side a 2-0 win at Yamaha Stadium.
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