New father Usami propels Gamba past Tosu, into Emperor’s Cup semifinals

by

Kyodo

Japan striker Takashi Usami celebrated the birth of his first child with a brace, his first goals since September, and sent holders Gamba Osaka to the Emperor’s Cup semifinals with a 3-1 win over Sagan Tosu on Saturday.

Usami, whose daughter was born on Christmas Eve, scored in each half of Gamba’s last match at Expo ’70 Stadium as they move into neighboring Suita Stadium next season.

Usami struck for the first time since Sept. 26, a drought of 15 games across all competitions.

“I’m glad I could score for her,” he said. “I definitely wanted a goal today because I have some fond memories at this stadium. I think my daughter gave me a lift today.”

Shun Nagasawa came off the bench to nail a late third for Kenta Hasegawa’s men, who will face Sanfrecce on Tuesday in the semifinal at Osaka’s Nagai Stadium, in what will be a rematch of the J. League Championship final that Hiroshima won over two legs.

Sanfrecce on Saturday dug deep once more to dismiss FC Tokyo 2-1 in extra time behind a double by super sub Takuma Asano, who leveled in the 85th minute and won it in the 103rd.

Urawa Reds and Kashiwa Reysol will square off in Tuesday’s other semifinal at Ajinomoto Stadium. Urawa defeated Vissel Kobe 3-0 away in their quarterfinal, and Kashiwa edged Vegalta Sendai 5-3 on penalties following a 3-3 draw after 120 minutes of play, during which Cristiano scored a hat trick from free kicks for Kashiwa.

Usami swore vengeance against Hiroshima, which will yet again play on just two days rest after powering through six games from Dec. 2 to 20.

“They’re on a little bit of a roll with the Club World Cup they had and we want to bring them back down to earth,” Usami said. “We don’t think we take a backseat to them at all, be it the style or quality of football we play.

“And we want to go out and prove that to them.”

At the ground they called home since the inaugural 1993 J. League season, Gamba grabbed the lead in the 26th minute though Usami’s first as last year’s Japan treble winners dominated possession.

Usami latched on to a superb long ball from Shu Kurata, controlling with a feather-soft first touch on the run. Usami then slotted home into the bottom right corner, putting Gamba in the driver’s seat.

But the J. League runners-up failed to take their chances in the first half and allowed Tosu to claw their way back into the game after halftime, with Ryota Hayasaka equalizing from point-blank range shortly past the hour when Gamba custodian Masaaki Higashiguchi fumbled near his line.

Yet the afternoon belonged to Usami, who put his team back up after 86 minutes when he beat goalkeeper Akihiro Hayashi from the edge of the box with the unleashing of his left foot.

The following minute, Nagasawa chased down an ill-advised back pass from the visitors to close the scoring and effectively end Sagan’s season.

Hasegawa credited Usami for persevering through the barren stretch.

“Takashi was truly outstanding today,” the manager said. “He’s looked sharp in training all week and having the child had to have given him a boost. Everything picked up for him this week.”