SAITAMA – Gamba Osaka lifted the Nabisco Cup after coming from two goals down to beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3-2 on Saturday, stoking hopes of a trophy treble.
Gamba, last season’s second-division champions, found themselves swimming against the tide when a double from Hisato Sato gave reigning J. League title-holders Sanfrecce a two-goal lead after 35 minutes at Saitama Stadium.
But Brazilian striker Patric pulled one back within minutes before notching an equalizer early in the second half, and substitute Kotaro Omori completed the turnaround when he pounced in the 71st minute to give Gamba the trophy for the second time in club history.
Gamba will now attempt to overhaul a five-point gap on J. League leaders Urawa Reds with three games to play when the teams go head to head on Nov. 22, before taking on Shimizu S-Pulse in the Emperor’s Cup semifinal four days later.
“At 2-0 down, I didn’t think it was going to happen,” said Gamba manager Kenta Hasegawa, who saw his side concede a 20th-minute penalty for a Keisuke Iwashita handball before a mistake by the same player gifted Sanfrecce a second goal. “I thought: ‘not Iwashita again.’ (Referee Yuichi) Nishimura had told him before the game not to do anything stupid.
“At 2-0 down it looked very difficult, but (Yasuhito) Endo and (Yasuyuki) Konno brought the team together and getting a goal back was very important. As a team we went for it in the second half.”
Sato wrote his name into Nabisco Cup history as the competition’s all-time top scorer with his 27th and 28th career goals, but a 38th-minute header from Patric gave Gamba hope of a comeback.
“They scored about three minutes after we had made it 2-0, and that made it difficult for us,” said Sato. “At halftime they knew they still had a chance. Patric is very tall and powerful and he gave us problems.
“If I don’t score but the team wins, I’m happy. But it doesn’t mean anything if I score and we don’t win the title.”
A slow game exploded into life when Iwashita misjudged the bounce of the ball in his own box and gave away a penalty for handball. Goalkeeper Masaaki Higashiguchi got a slight touch on Sato’s kick, but it had just enough power to find the corner of the net.
Takashi Usami came close to drawing Gamba level in the 33th minute, but instead it was Sanfrecce who doubled their advantage moments later. Naoki Ishihara latched onto a defensive mistake by Iwashita to drill a deflected shot against the post, and Sato reacted quickest to bury the rebound.
Just as it looked like Sanfrecce had one hand on the trophy, however, Patric pulled a goal back, glancing a header from an Endo cross past goalkeeper Takuto Hayashi.
Hayashi denied Patric and Hiroyuki Abe in quick succession as Gamba came out fighting after the interval, but it did not take long for the equalizer to arrive. Usami whipped a cross toward Patric in the box, and the Brazilian met it with a diving header.
The momentum had now swung completely Gamba’s way, and it was little surprise when Omori put the Osaka side ahead 19 minutes from time. Abe struck a shot that Hayashi could only parry, and Omori swooped to head the ball into the back of the net.
“If we had lost here it would have had an effect on the team’s mood,” said Gamba midfielder Yasuyuki Konno. “We won, so hopefully now we can carry this on in the league. We’re playing Urawa next, in this stadium, and we were in the away dressing room today so we’re used to the place now.”
The result ended two-time defending J. League champion Sanfrecce’s chances of silverware this season, having been eliminated from the Emperor’s Cup and languishing in eighth place in the league, 15 points off the title pace.
“The players prepared well for the game and went into it without any nerves,” said Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu. “We took the lead but ended up losing, and I have to take responsibility for failing to convey the right message to the players. At 2-0 down we should have had the patience to tough it out.”