Gamba Osaka booked their spot in next year’s Asian Champions League and this season’s Emperor’s Cup on goals by Shu Kurata and Patric in a 2-0 J-League first-division win over Yokohama FC on Wednesday.
Gamba’s victory at Nippatsu Mitsuzawa Stadium and Cerezo Osaka’s 2-1 loss at home against Sagan Tosu clinched second place in J1, giving Gamba the second J1 berth in the Emperor’s Cup, which has been pared down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the hosts trailing 2-0 after Patric’s 81st-minute strike, Japanese soccer icon Kazuyoshi Miura, known to fans as “King Kazu,” playing in his 35th pro season, entered for Yokohama FC, re-writing his record as the oldest to take part in a J1 game at 53 years, 9 months and 20 days.
In an entertaining match, the visitors struck in the opening seconds after intercepting a poor pass near midfield. A through pass to Patric in the penalty area from playmaker Yuki Yamamoto allowed Gamba to overwhelm Yokohama’s back line.
Keeper Yuji Rokutan was forced to come out and challenge Shinya Yajima, and deflected his shot. With Rokutan out of the picture, however, Patric nodded the deflected ball slowly toward goal, where a defender was waiting to clear it off the line before Kurata tapped it home.
“The start of the game is important. I was just pressing forward and the ball came to me out of the blue. It may have been a lucky goal, but for me and for the team it was really important,” Kurata said.
The poor start didn’t deter the hosts, who continually found ways to set up quality shots but repeatedly failed to finish.
“We had to endure a lot and it seemed like a really long game. Honestly, we didn’t play that well. We’ve got another game coming up right away and we can improve some things,” said Kurata, who had a hand in Patric’s 81st-minute score after the hosts gave away the ball in their own half.
Again with a numerical advantage in the penalty area, Rokutan did well to block two rapid-fire high-velocity shots from Kurata and Kazuma Watanabe only for the second rebound to fall to Patric to poke home from a meter out.
Gamba will now enter the Emperor’s Cup at the semifinal stage on Dec. 27, setting up a possible New Year’s Day final with league champions Kawasaki Frontale, who will play in the other semifinal.
“I can’t forget seeing Frontale clinch their championship in front of us,” Kurata said. “We have games left to go, but I so want to meet them in the final and get some payback. We’d all love that.”
In Osaka, Tiago Alves struck the winner in injury time to lift Sagan past Cerezo, who remained fourth on 59 points, one behind Nagoya Grampus in the hunt for the third and final J1 ACL berth.
Elsewhere, Frontale beat Urawa Reds 3-1 at home, Oita Trinita won 2-1 at Shonan Bellmare, Vegalta Sendai won 3-2 away at Shimizu S-Pulse, while scoring leader Michael Olunga struck in the 17th minute to lift Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 away to Sanfrecce Hiroshima. The Kenya international now has 27 goals.
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