FC Gifu made it two wins from two as they ruthlessly put their northern Alps neighbours to the sword with a display of attacking verve that has rarely been seen in Gifu before.
Coach Ruy Ramos made one change from the team that beat Kamatamare Sanuki on the opening day with Croatian midfielder Stipe replacing Atsushi Mio. Kataller kept faith with their attacking quartet of Kokeguchi, Nakajima, Shirasaki & Seo Yong Duk.
Kataller actually started brighter, but only had a couple of efforts from on loan FC Tokyo forward Nakajima, one blocked and one hit over the bar, to show for their exertions. Gifu came close to opening the scoring when Stipe’s header from an Alex Santos free-kick was palmed away by Toyama ‘keeper Mizutani. However, the hosts didn’t have to wait long for their opener, and it came from the same source of last week’s opening goal. A free-kick near the halfway line was headed down by Cristian Nazarit into the path of Hiroaki Namba and he prodded the ball past Mizutani to give Gifu a half time lead.
Gifu started the second half very brightly and were unfortunate not to go 2-0 up when Stipe’s header was ruled out for offside, but it looked a very harsh decision. A second goal wasn’t too long in coming though, and it came in the 58th minute from an unlikely source. Another excellent free-kick from Alex Santos was met by Takuya Kokeguchi, and his attempted clearing header sailed in to the top corner. It was really a freak goal that you won’t see too often. Gifu were buzzing, and they were swarming all over Toyama. Nazarit busted through the Toyama defence, but his cut back was cleared. Stipe blasted over the bar from 12 yards out, as did NMB 24 (Hiroaki Namba to you) but in the 69th minute it was all over, and what a goal to seal it. The outstanding Masanori Abe won the ball from Nakajima on the halfway line before feeding a pass to Takachi. He pirouetted around two defenders, leaving them for dead, drove into the box before cutting inside another defender and rolling the ball under Mizutani. A wonderful goal.
A crowd of 7879 saw Gifu easily see out the game and the win puts them top of the, admittedly embryonic, J2 table. As Ramos admitted after, it was a better team performance than the opening day, but there is still room for improvement. There weren’t really any weak links yesterday, everyone played well. Nazarit, even though he was off the scoresheet put in a great shift. Stipe looks dangerous every time he gets the ball. Namba and Takachi have brought class & energy to the team. But yesterday there were two star performers.
Taisuke Mizuno was superb in midfield. He was asked to sit deeper than he was probably used to but he chased, passed and tackled all day. It was a huge performance from someone who was unhappy with his own performance last week. Masanori Abe put in a stellar performance. He is only young, but he has played with a maturity that belies his tender age. He is quick, good in the tackle and decent in the air. If he continues his upward curve, Gifu could have unearthed a diamond here.
One footnote to the game is that Alex Santos will reportedly be fine going forward, and the stretcher was just used as a precaution.
Next up is a difficult looking trip to Montedio Yamagata. But Gifu must be full of confidence at the moment and so will be looking forward to it.