FC Tokyo denied Gamba Osaka the chance to go level on points with J. League leaders Kashima Antlers with a battling 1-1 draw on Wednesday night.
Gamba striker Lucas returned to haunt his old teammates with a 7th-minute opening goal at National Stadium, but Tokyo responded immediately as Naohiro Ishikawa’s hard running and creative verve took the game to the visitors.
Yohei Tokunaga hit a deserved equalizer from outside the box in the 20th minute, and although Gamba laid siege to the Tokyo goal late in the match, the home side held firm to claim a point. Antlers went down 2-1 to Kyoto Sanga FC earlier on Wednesday night, and Gamba manager Akira Nishino admitted his side was not in the best condition to join them at the top of the table.
“We were tired,” he said. “We didn’t have much in the tank but we had to give as much as we could.”
Nishino’s FC Tokyo counterpart, Hiroshi Jofuku, offered a similar explanation.
“They have tall, powerful players and they play a possession game,” he said. “You have to work hard to play against them, and we tired near the end.
“The rain also made it slippy out there, but we fought hard to hold on.”
Gamba gave Tokyo an early warning when Sota Nakazawa brushed a header against the post in the 4th minute, and the traveling Osaka fans did not have to wait much longer to celebrate the real thing.
Michihiro Yasuda sent in a cross from the left, and although Masato Yamazaki failed to apply the finishing touch, his strike partner Lucas made no mistake at the back post.
The goal woke Tokyo from its slumber, and Ishikawa looked dangerous as he exploited the space down the right wing time and time again.
The 27-year-old looked to have sent a cross too deep as he beat his man once more, but Sota Hirayama did well to hook the ball back to Cabore only to see the Brazilian snatch at his shot.
The momentum had clearly shifted, and Tokunaga confirmed it when he picked up the ball outside the Gamba box, cut inside and rifled the ball past Yosuke Fujigaya for the equalizer.
Still Ishikawa kept running at the Gamba defense, and now he had been joined by Yuto Nagatomo to completely dominate the right side of the pitch.
Cabore again failed to make use of his teammate’s penetration when he missed a chance midway through the first half, but although the home side failed to score again before the interval, Tokyo’s attacking play was full of the urgency and directness that Gamba’s lacked.
Hirayama blotted his copybook, however, when he carved out space to run at the Gamba defense, and with the goal opening up in front of him, dwelt so long that his only option was to crumble to the ground in search of a penalty. Referee Takuya Maeda was unimpressed, awarding the striker nothing but a yellow card.
The strain seemed to be showing on the Gamba players as Bare aimed an accusatory glare at Lucas for a misplaced pass in front of goal as the second half got under way, but the appearance of substitute Hayato Sasaki on the wing gave the visitors a new dimension.
Lucas went close to restoring Gamba’s lead as he headed Takahiro Futagawa’s free-kick a fraction wide, and Bare tried his luck from distance minutes later as the match threatened to swing Osaka’s way.
Cabore hit an effort of his own as Tokyo fought against the tide, but although Bare and Lucas both went close in a late onslaught, a fantastic save from goalkeeper Hitoshi Shiota with the last touch of the match typified the home side’s resistance and safeguarded a share of the spoils.
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