Gamba Osaka have clinched both the 2020 J.League 1 silver medal and a ticket to the 2021 AFC Champions League group stage with a 2-0 win over Yokohama FC on Wednesday. Playing their penultimate league match of the season at Yokohama FC’s NHK Spring Mitsuzawa Stadium, Gamba needed a win over the hosts to ensure 2nd place in the J1 table, which they duly did so thanks to goals from Shu Kurata and Patric.
With both an ACL ticket and a spot in the 2020 Emperor’s Cup semifinal at stake, Gamba went into high octane straight after kick-off, with Yuki Yamamoto sending a through pass to Brazilian striker Patric within the Yokohama FC defense. This prompted a string of pint-point passes between Patric, Kazuma Watanabe, Kurata, and Shinya Yajima within Yokohama FC’s penalty box, stretching out the home side’s defense. The maneuver culminated in Yajima launching a close-ranged shot that was deflected away by Yokohama FC goalkeeper Yuji Rokutan, who had rushed out of his post. However, Rokutan was unable to clear the shot far enough, enabling Patric to pounce on the ball and nod it slightly towards Kurata, who slotted home and gave Gamba the lead after just 24 seconds.
Despite going down so early in the game, Yokohama FC refused to throw the towel and bombarded Gamba’s defense for an equalizer. Unfortunately for the home side, despite creating a menagerie of chances, they were unable to make good use of them, with Gamba goalie Masaaki HIgashiguchi thwarting a number of shots while the other found themselves veering off-target. Gamba also had their fair share of chances after their opener, but Rokutan was on-hand to prevent his side from going two goals down for a good majority of the match.
Rokutan’s resistance was finally broken once again in the 81st minute, after Yokohama FC had given away the ball to Gamba in the midfield. With Gamba players flooding Yokohama FC’s penalty box, Kurata lashed out a shot that was deflected by Rokutan’s palms, before Watanabe rifled in the rebound. Rokutan dove to the ground to thwart Watanabe’s effort, however the ball found itself in the possession of Patric, who lashed home a close-ranged shot with Rokutan still on the ground. 2-0 Gamba and that was the final scoreline at the Mitsuzawa.
Gamba’s runners-up position was further secured by the failure of city rivals Cerezo Osaka in beating Sagan Tosu at the Nagai Stadium, with the home side succumbing to a Tiago Alves injury-time winner as they went down 2-1. League champions Kawasaki Frontale coast to a 3-1 win over Urawa Red Diamonds at the Todoroki Athletics Stadium, while fellow Kanagawa Prefecture side Shonan Bellmare were defeated 2-1 at home by Oita Trinita.
Michael Olunga was once agaon on target for Kashiwa Reysol as they edged out Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 at the Hiroshima Big Arch, while rounding up Matchweek 33’s action was Vegalta Sendai’s 3-2 win over Shimizu S-Pulse at the latter’s IAI Stadium Nihondaira, a result that lifted Vegalta off last place and condemned Shimizu to the foot of the J1 table.
With relegation abolished for the 2020 season, the 2021 J1 season will have 20 teams participating, with the two new arrivals from the 2020 J.League 2 being confirmed on Wednesday. J2 leaders Tokushima Vortis made their return to the top flight after 6 years of exile with a 1-0 home win over Omiya Ardija, while 2nd placed Avispa Fukuoka were also promoted after beating hosts Ehime FC 2-0, a result that was helped by 3rd placed V-Varen Nagasaki’s failure to beat Ventforet Kofu, with the two sides playing out a 1-1 draw at Nagasaki’s Transcosmos Stadium. Avispa will be returning to the J1 after 5 years away from the top flight.
Tokushima and Avispa’s promotions meant that for the first time ever, all four of Japan’s main islands will have representatives in the J.League 1 for the 2021 season. Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo are, as usual, the sole representatives of Hokkaido, while the main island of Honshu is home to 15 J1 teams. Kyushu will have 3 representatives in next season’s J1 in Oita, Tosu, and Avispa, the first time that more than two clubs are flying the Kyushu flag in the J1. Last but not least, the island of Shikoku will be represented by Tokushima in next season’s J1.