Soccer / J. League

Struggling Sagan Tosu gives fans something to cheer for in win over Gamba Osaka


Spanish midfielder Isaac Cuenca gave a man-of-the-match performance as last-place Sagan Tosu secured just their second win of the season by beating fellow strugglers Gamba Osaka 3-1 in the J. League first-division on Saturday.

Cuenca headed in the opening goal from a corner in the 16th minute and later earned the penalty kick from which former Japan striker Yohei Toyoda doubled the lead at Ekimae Real Estate Stadium.

Riki Harakawa added Sagan’s third in the 90th minute, moments before Ryotaro Meshino pulled a goal back for the visitors in injury time.

Coming less than a week after the resignation of Spanish manager Lluis Carreras, the win was the most convincing performance of the campaign for Sagan, which had scored just one goal in the league to date.

Cuenca, who struck the winner in Sagan’s only other league victory, a 1-0 defeat of Jubilo Iwata on March 17, said the team was determined to turn the season around after a nightmare start.

“I was really happy that we were able to repay our supporters by scoring a lot of goals and playing some good soccer,” the 28-year-old former Barcelona player said.

“We need to keep it going. Just focus on playing good soccer as we move forward,” he added.

Cuenca found the net after Gamba left him unmarked to nod home Hiromu Mitsumaru’s corner kick at the back post. He set the stage for Toyoda’s 72nd-minute penalty goal by making a run into the box and playing a cross that struck the hand of Gamba defender Shunya Suganuma.

Former assistant manager Kim Myung-hwi, who took the reins following Carreras’ departure, credited his team for an attacking performance in which they produced 15 shots, six on target.

“Above all, I’m glad we were both able to score and get the win. Seeing the fans finally able to celebrate really meant something,” Kim, a former Sagan center-back, said. “We created a lot of opportunities to take shots, and there was good movement in front of goal.”

Marquee forward Fernando Torres, who was critical of the club’s role in Carreras’ departure, made only a brief cameo as a substitute, entering in the 85th minute for Toyoda.

The Spaniard missed an opportunity to put the home team up 3-0 when he shot wide with a half volley from close range. But he set up Harakawa’s goal moments later, making a run into the box before finding the midfielder with a deflected ball to the middle of the area.

With 56 percent of possession, Gamba created a number of chances, including a 38th-minute effort from Ademilson that keeper Yohei Takaoka blocked with a diving save.

Takaoka deflected a close-range shot from Kosuke Onose out for a corner in the 87th minute before Ademilson hit the woodwork from the subsequent set piece.

At Yanmar Stadium, Kota Mizunuma scored twice as Cerezo Osaka beat Yokohama F Marinos 3-0.

The 29-year-old winger opened the scoring with a breakaway goal in the second minute, beating Marinos keeper Park Iru-gyu with a half-volley from outside the area.

Toshiyuki Takagi doubled the lead with a header in the 59th minute before Mizunuma brought up his brace six minutes later.

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